Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Dell Publishing Company)

Kurt Vonnegut is one of those authors all of my friends had recommended but I had never got around to reading. Thus I decided last month to read Slaughterhouse-Five.

Billy Pilgrim is the son of an American barber. He serves as a chaplain's assistant in World War II, is captured by the Germans, and he survives the largest massacre in European history - the fire-bombing of Dresden.

After the war Billy makes a great deal of money as an optometrist, and on his wedding night he is kidnapped by a flying saucer from the planet Tralfamadore. So begins a modern classic by a master storyteller.

Slaughterhouse-Five is quite short and reads quickly, however it is one of the most bizarre novels I have ever read. It is a combination of a drama, war and science fiction novel all put together, with an unpredictable timeline.

It starts off with the narrator wanting to write a book, and thus we are introduced to the story of Billy Pilgrim – war veteran, father, husband, optometrist, time-traveller.

Billy Pilgrim is probably the character I have felt the most sympathy for, ever. He has the worst luck I have seen a character experience – this only makes you empathise with him. My empathy developed not from his bad luck itself but from the fact that being a time-traveller (he becomes “unstuck in time” occasionally) he knows his fate and that of his family and all around him – yet for all of that, Billy is never a defeatist.

He trudges through his life, through World War II, being a father and husband, befriending a science fiction author and also being abducted by extra-terrestrials, to be an exhibit in their zoo. The title is derived from a building in Dresden where Billy was a prisoner of war and ultimately saves his life.

One of the recurring phrases in this novel is “So it goes.” and that is probably the best description of this novel and Billy’s life. It is a “heavy” novel in some ways however I think it is quite possibly one of the best novels I have ever read.

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