written by Kurt Vonnegut Jr
reviewed by Eleazar Wawa, age 16
Slaughterhouse-Five, also known as The Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., is an anti-war novel revolving around events that took place in Dresden, Germany during World War II. Dresden is a small city that was firebombed near the end of the war, killing 135,000 civilians.
The novel follows protaganist Billy Pilgrim, an eccentric, weak, and awkward man. The book says he has become “unstuck in time.” This means that he can travel in time to events in his life before and after his experiences as a war prisoner in Germany.
Billy is an anti-hero. Even though he is the main character, he mostly displays cowardice and laziness. This, of course, contributes to Vonnegut’s anti-war theme. The main character lacks heroic traits.
Billy embarks on a journey filled with many twists and turns. His journey takes him from living in New York as an optometrist, to being a prisoner of war (P.O.W.) in a devastated Germany, to living as an exhibit in an alien zoo. Billy’s adventures keep your eyes glued to the page.
What is even more eccentric about Vonnegut’s novel is the unconventional way it is written. There is no beginning, no middle, and no end. There are no causes, effects, inciting event, or climax. Vonnegut uses Billy Pilgrim’s time traveling abilities to reveal information to readers. Billy’s perception of time is not linear. He’s able to know, recount and be aware in events of his life before, during, and after their occurrences. Since Billy jumps around to different points in his life, there is no beginning or end to the story. If you already know what’s going to happen, there can be no inciting event or climax.
Although the style of this book is confusing, I liked Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s not like any book I have ever read before. One of the reasons Vonnegut wrote the novel this way is to make it similar to literature of the Tralfamadorians, the alien race that kidnapped Billy and put him in a zoo.
Regardless of the novel’s meanders, it is painfully obvious to the reader that its main topic is war. Unlike other novels it does not glorify or celebrate war, or even make it look romantic. That is what captured my attention most about this book: unperverted, and unmanipulated truth.
Slaughterhouse-Five is a literary work of art that has comedy, science fiction, action, black humor, and profound insight. I recommend this book to anyone at or above the high school level. No matter what type of reader you are, you’ll find something to reflect on in this book.