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Home > People

WAWIBF... Kurt Vonnegut

5 June 2004

Kurt Vonnegut is just about the nearest thing we have to a living literary god and if you haven't read any of his books you should really make a point of doing so over the next few days. 'Slaughterhouse Five' is the obvious place to start, but also highly recommended are 'Breakfast of Champions', 'Bluebeard', 'Slapstick', 'God Bless You, Mr Rosewater' and 'Palm Sunday', the first part of his autobiography.

Read them and you will find that Kurt Vonnegut is one of the simplest, warmest, wittiest, most sensible, straightforward and insightful human beings you will ever read. Plus he understands irony better than most English writers. This week an essay he wrote for a fortnightly American magazine called 'In These Times' has been appearing all over the net. You should read that too.

The essay, 'Cold Turkey', is actually rather depressing. It's depressing because Kurt Vonnegut's novels, even when his characters are suffering hideously or dropping down dead from drinking bleach, the novels tend somehow to give rise to an incredible sense of optimism. Something about Vonnegut's philosophy, about his belief in the goodness of people, despite their hideous stupidity, self-serving short-sightedness and fear.

But at 81, his patience seems finally to be wearing thin. The essay begins: 'Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of.' It goes on: 'But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America's becoming humane and reasonable.'

Naturally, what with his talent for seeing the world with extraordinary clarity, Kurt Vonnegut is not a fan of George W. Bush et al. In an interview which appeared a month ago in the New York Daily News, Vonnegut described Bush et al as 'adroit criminals'. 'They're committing war crimes,' he said. 'attacking a country that hasn't attacked us. Pretending it had. And torturing prisoners and filling countless graves with dead Iraqis. But adroit, sure. Al Capone was adroit.' The essay doing the rounds at the moment ends with Vonnegut stating his belief that 'We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.'

Well, if nothing ever does get better; if war leads to war leads to war leads to war and we do eventually turn the environment into our deadliest enemy, at least for a while back there, just before the end, we had Kurt Vonnegut to make us feel better. It's just a pity that he never ran for President.

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