Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The Children’s Crusade Jr. An alternative title of this book is “The Children’s Crusade”. The reason of the name come from a medieval kids army that supposedly was sent to Jerusalem 800 years ago to fight along christians during the crusades.

Billy Pilgrim, the main character in this novel, goes to Germany to fight the Nazis during WW2. He is taken prisoner and survives the fire bombardment of Dresden that killed more people than the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Eventually he goes back to America where aliens come to abduct him and he is taken to another planet where the aliens exhibit him in a zoo of interspace creatures. The superluminal speeds during the trip and his interaction with the aliens causes him to become unstuck in time, which allows him to experience all events out of chronological order. Essentially he is aware of all events happening in the past, present and future.

During the novel, Pilgrim goes back and forth between his time in Dresden and his future life as a married man, and has to repeatedly experience the horrors of the war and seeing his friends die. He has always known his friends will be killed and his wife will die when she rushes to the hospital where he has just arrived after having an accident in the plane where he was flying to a conference. Pilgrim knows when and now he is going to die. In fact, several times he has already experienced his own death.

Pilgrim accepts he has no control of his life or his future. Everything just happens without a reason and perhaps that’s one of the messages of the book: Little can be done to prevent bad things from happening. Although this is an anti-war book, Pilgrim says that acceptance of reality is the only thing that can be done.

This is a strange book. But I think the idea of being unstuck in time and knowing all past and future, is interesting. There is little room for hope and dreams. What is then the purpose of life?

Here is a brief excerpt of Pilgrim talking to the aliens: “Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?” “Yes.” Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three lady-bugs embedded in it. “Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

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