Thursday, April 12, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Last night I took M to the library, and was thrilled to pick up a brochure about a free lecture being given by Kurt Vonnegut at the end of the month. In fact, the city had just announced Tuesday that the One City, One Book read is Vonnegut's classic Slaughterhouse Five, and that this is being proclaimed The Year of Vonnegut for the Circle City.

I heard this morning on the radio that the 84-year-old author had died last night.

I haven't read any Vonnegut in several years, and was looking forward to re-exploring Slaughterhouse Five with my fellow Hoosiers. Vonnegut's absurd, irreverent style isn't the type book I normally gravitate toward, but I adore his brilliance and economy with language and his sometimes startling revelations on humanity in the middle of writing that is comedic and can fool you into feeling it's trite.

This passage about trains carrying POWs across Europe has stuck with me, almost verbatim, since I read it in Slaughterhouse Five more than 15 years ago:

During the night, some of the locomotives began to tootle at one another, and then to move. The locomotive and the last car of each train were marked with a striped banner of orange and black, indicating that the train was not fair game for airplanes -- that it was carrying prisoners of war.

I still remember how jolted I was when I read this brief history lesson in the ridiculousness of war games and the rules of engagement. That's what Vonnegut did -- made us look at humanity in the context of his imagined worlds, giving us glimpses of the real world that were no less absurd, no less fantastical, and no less horrifying. He did it like no one else.

May he rest in peace.


Blogger Jose said...

So it goes, eh? Good tribute, Cindy. I read somewhere that he fought in WWII, and was a POW in Germany. He witnessed the firebombing of Dresden and it informed all his views and works later on. I remember him describing the firebombing of Dresden in 'Slaughterhouse Five'

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