Friday, February 24, 2006

Kurt Vonnegut at 83

Followup: Vonnegut died a few weeks after this post was published.


Kurt Vonnegut is no longer well-known, but he is still at work.

His new book, A Man Without a Country, includes a series of broadsides against America's ruling elite, who, he believes, have made the country "as feared and hated all over the world as the Nazis were . . We have dehumanised millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We kill 'em and torture 'em and imprison 'em all we want."
It gets worse, so if the reader is a patriot it might be best to skip this link and move on to something else. Those of us who have treasured his every creation don't mind what he says. Anything that smacks of treason is redemed by wit and humor. Just be patient and he'll be dead in a few more years. Meantime, fans can have another short visit.

Just as his literary universe abounds in absurdity and catastrophe, so too has Vonnegut's real world. At 19, as a prisoner of war in Germany, he witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden - an experience that gave rise to his most famous book, Slaughterhouse-Five. Soon after he came back from the war, his mother committed suicide.

In the 1960s, his only son, Mark, went through a psychotic breakdown, and 20 years later Vonnegut himself tried to commit suicide. In the mid-1970s, Vonnegut's sister died of cancer, just 24 hours after losing her husband in a car crash. (Vonnegut and his then-wife, with whom he'd had three children, promptly adopted three of their orphaned nephews.) Then, in 2000, he nearly died of smoke inhalation when fire destroyed most of his house.

According to Vonnegut, there's not much you can do when faced with such horrors, except try to laugh at them. For him, humour is the only appropriate lens through which to view the follies of the world. But beneath the exuberance of novels such as Breakfast of Champions and Mother Night, with their wild digressions into whimsy, science fiction and personal memoir, there's always a quiet moan of anguish going on - a sense of disbelief at the messes people make of their lives, as well as the even bigger mess that human beings have made of the planet.

Link to The Age (Au.) article
H/T Maud Newton Blog

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