Banned Book Review – “Slaughterhouse five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death”
Earlier this year, I decided to participate in the Banned Books Challenge to broaden my horizons and read so many of the books that I’ve always meant to read.
I started the year with “The Things They Carried,” a collection of short stories which take place during the Vietnam War. I decided to stay with that theme of war novels and I moved on to “Slaughterhouse Five,” by Kurt Vonnegut.
“Slaughterhouse five” follows the story of Billy Pilgrim, a chaplain’s assistant, during World War II. Billy is captured shortly after the Battle of the Bulge and travels to Dresden while a prisoner of war. He, like Vonnegut himself, is in Dresden during the city’s firebombing in WWII.
According to Wikipedia, “Slaughterhouse five” was banned (attempted to) due to it’s “irreverent tone and purportedly obscene content.” As with “The Things They Carried,” and I’d imagine any book that deals with war, it is going to discuss things that leave some people uncomfortable. Terrible things happen during wars, and people should be honest about it (and with themselves). War is hell.
But the book covers more than just the war – it talks about Billy’s life before and after war, as well as his interactions with the Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians experience time different than the traditional linear form that we do, they instead leap through time, experiencing events years apart and often at random. A oddity, which they impart to Billy, causing him to become unstuck in time – leaping back and forth from his regular life, to the war, his time as a prisoner of war, to his time in captivity with the Tralfamadorians, and other events.
The confusion and off-kilter feeling with time skipping and Vonnegut’s style (not traditional chapters) worked well for a retelling of a war story. I’ve never been to war, but I’d imagine that most survivors of war have moments of time when they suddenly think about a memory from their time in the war… especially when trying to reacclimate to their old lives and heal from the traumatic experience of going to war.
There is also a refrain that is repeated many times during the book and anyone who has read the book can easily tell you what it is – “so it goes.” It is often repeated after discussing a character’s death or unfortunate event. This is part of where the pro-banning the book people got their “irreverent tone” nonsense from. And to their objections to the book, I’ve no doubt Vonnegut had three words for them: “so it goes.”
It was an interesting and deep story, peppered throughout with some bits that were humorous. My favorite funny scene was when a writer was at a party of eye doctors and talks with a young woman –
“Did that really happen?” said Maggie White. She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away. She hadn’t had even one yet. She used birth control.
“Of course it happened,” Trout told her. “If I wrote something that hadn’t really happened, and I tried to sell it, I could go to jail. That’s fraud.”
Five out of five stars for “Slaughterhouse Five,” I’d put it on the list of books that you should read at some point in your life…as it’s probably one of the best novels of our time.
And make sure you check out the banned books challenge for 2015, because books should never be banned.