Monday, October 19, 2009
Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
While reading a great selection by Padfoot and Prong's new online Good Books Club, I discovered yet another embarrassing fact in an unendable list of uninteresting facts about myself: I've never read Kurt Vonnegut. I can barely even spell his name. And I have just one word to say about that:
What a great book. In Mother Night Vonnegut makes fun of the landscape of war and peace, a social commentary of what makes us who we are and why. Are we truly what we seem or are we all masking our own indifference in a world we believe should only revolve around ourselves? We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
Howard Campbell Jr. is a great pretender. An American who became a notorious Nazi propagandist during WWII, Campbell is concerned about one thing: himself. A writer and one-time playwright (for no one is a better liar than a man who has warped lives and passions onto something as grotesquely artificial as a stage), recruited early on in the war by the American government to use his popular broadcasts to relay secret information to their operatives, Campbell is a spy in every sense of the word. He's a ghost of man. An empty shell. In his own words: a nationless person by inclination. Now twenty years later and a war criminal imprisoned for encouraging millions of Nazis in their crimes, Campbell is writing his own autobiographical play, his confession of sorts. In his dedication he calls himself a man who served evil too openly and good too secretly, the crime of his times.
Sounds serious right? It is, and darkly funny at the same time. Vonnegut, like Joseph Heller has a way of weaving the hardness and blackness of war and its aftermath, and making you laugh despite the circumstances. Who can do that I wonder, who can create a person who is both vile and sympathetic at the same time, a character I can't decide if I like or hate? A gifted storyteller can, and Vonnegut stands in league with those few that separate truth and fiction with great skill.
He concludes his introduction with yet another moral to this tale: When you're dead you're dead. And make love when you can. It's good for you.
Yesterday is not soon enough for me to read the rest of his books.
Other great reviews:
Hamilcar from 5-squared
ELFay from This Book and I Could be Friends
25 Hour Books