Slaughterhouse-Five: The Children’s Crusade is such a great little read. Written by Kurt Vonnegut and published in 1969, the short novel (just over 200 pages) tells the story of Billy Pilgrim and the bombing of Dresden during the final days of the Second World War. Billy Pilgrim is unique in that he has the ability to travel through time and to relive, at will, episodes from his life.
As Billy journeys backwards and forwards in time the reader learns about his experiences as a soldier and prisoner of war, his career as an optometrist in the fictitious town of Ilium, New York, and the terrible loss of civilian life which occurred during the final assault against Hitler and the Nazi regime. I, for one, never realised that significantly more people were killed in Dresden in a single night than by the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
Slaughterhouse-Five is similar to Sophie’s Choice by William Styron in that Vonnegut weaves together a series of subplots to create one, fluid narrative. It is impressive the way Vonnegut manages to keep the reader engaged while jumping backwards and forwards in time and place, from war-ravaged central Europe, through 1960s America and across the universe to the alien planet of Tralfamadore, where Pilgrim is supposedly kept captive in a zoo alongside a Californian adult movie star. The story certainly is unique!
The end of the novel also has a New Zealand flavour, which was a nice surprise:
“Billy found himself paired as a digger with a Maori who had been captured at Tobruk. The Maori was chocolate brown. He had whirlpools tattooed on his forehead and cheeks.”
I would definitely recommend Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s incredibly easy to read; it’s punchy and to the point; and above all it’s really entertaining.