by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut’s novel poking fun at both war and religion is clever on so many levels. He captures the absurdity of creating an atomic bomb in the same way Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 tackles the subject of war. We seem hell-bent on insuring our own destruction.
Our narrator is researching the fictional inventor of the atom bomb, Felix Hoenikker, and he learns more about his background through his strange son, Newton Hoenikker. Throughout the book cat’s cradle, a children’s yarn game, is used to show the meaninglessness of things. When looking at the overlapping lines of string Newton points out that there is no cat or cradle in the designs. Newton’s constant refrain…
“See the cat? See the cradle?”
… echoes through our minds as Vonnegut moves on to talk about the fictional religion, Bokononism. It’s a strange blend of cynical beliefs and nonsensical rituals and is practiced by the people who live on the remote island of San Lorenzo. In Vonnegut’s classic style, the belief system contradicts itself, overlapping forbidden laws and absurd practices. Vonnegut’s satire of religion is rivaled only by his mocking of the invention of weapons, in this case Ice-9, a weapon which freezes all the oceans of the world.
Vonnegut’s life was filled with tragedy; his mother’s suicide, sister’s death and his time as a prisoner of war in Germany. Yet despite all the horrors he experienced, he still had an irrepressible sense of humor. Sure, it’s an incredibly dark sense of humor, but it’s there.
BOTTOM LINE: One of my favorite Vonnegut novels, there is less of the extraterrestrial and more social commentary in this book. You don’t have to agree with all of his beliefs to appreciate his skill. If you’re a fan of Catch-22 I think you’d particularly enjoy this one.
“When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”
“She hated people who thought too much. At that moment she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.”
“The highest possible form of treason is to say that Americans aren’t loved wherever they go, whatever they do.”
*Drawing of Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut from the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library