Monday, May 23, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut, "Slaughterhouse Five"

I read Kurt Vonnegut's book, "The Slaughterhouse Five" recently. The book deals with the insanity of war, in a manner similar to the movie "Apocalypse Now".

In case you haven't read Kurt Vonnegut, it is difficult to explain the writing style. It jumps around a lot between time and topics. After the first chapter, the book has no logical beginning or end. Since this was my first Vonnegut book, the writing style was jarring. The first few pages were tough, I wasn't certain if I wanted to continue reading. I felt that the book was over-hyped, and a ten-year old could write better connected prose. While reading on, I realised that the book was not insane, but brilliant. It dealt with the brutality and futility of war, in a way that linear prose probably never could. At the end, I was left with a deep appreciation of Kurt Vonnegut, and the urge to read other books by him.

I'm fascinated by books about war. At one end of the spectrum, we're fixated on war. Many books, movies, computer games are about war, about killing others, and they're celebrated in modern culture. At the same time, we make such a big deal about killing any single human, about how morally reprehensible a murderer is. I'm also amazed at how easily people can be led to war. I was in the US during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I was shocked as cafes and bars showed footage of bombs being dropped on cities, while customers cheered on. The entire scene was surreal, like out of a dream, and I am still not sure I witnessed it. It is difficult to write a logical book about war, because war isn't logical. During war, a soldier is asked to suspend logic, and obey commands. Without such discipline, no army can function. The best depiction of war comes from fiction: where war is neither glorified, nor debased. It is shown in all its insanity, and the reader is left to make up his mind.