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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


“So it goes.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five is a story I expect to continue thinking about forever. I’ve never quite realised that I am mortal before, but this book has confirmed for me that one day I will be dead and life for everyone else will go on. “So it goes.”

So many tones, so many meanings in the phrase, “So it goes,” which is used over and over throughout the story, each time someone dies.

Sometimes the phrase seems to mean, ‘whatever,’ along with an eye roll.

Or sadly, ‘life is hard and then you die’.

At other times, the words are reassuring, because the words are saying that we are no different from anyone else, because we will all come to the same in the end.

However, in the midst of grief, life goes on which Slaughterhouse-Five tells. It contains a story within a story, with both stories telling of men who lived through terrible times.

The first (or outer) story starts with an un-named narrator, a writer who was an American prisoner of war during the Second World War, in Dresden when the city was fire-bombed. Thousands of people died during the fire-bombing. “So it goes.”

Chapter Two is the beginning of the un-named narrator’ story, which tells of another man, Billy Pilgrim, who was also at Dresden during the World War Two fire-bombing. The reader learns that Billy is a time-traveller. Sometimes he is a senile old man, sometimes a child, next a middle-aged married optometrist and at other times he is an American prisoner of war, in Dresden. He is a fatalist, and he knows how he will die. “So it goes.”

My knowledge of the fire-bombing of Dresden was non-existent before reading Slaughterhouse-Five. The only thing I thought I knew about Dresden was that it was a city in Germany, where Dresden dolls were manufactured. Even this turned out to be incorrect. According to Google, the dolls I thought were Dresden dolls are actually called ‘Parian dolls’. You live and learn.

After the actual destruction of Dresden by the British and Americans, there was enormous controversy regarding the rights and wrongs of the fire-bombing. Some people say this was a war-crime and others say the actions were justified. Reports also differ regarding the amount of people killed and during my limited investigation I also learned that the fire-bombing was virtually unknown or unreported amongst the Allied countries. Based on reading Slaughterhouse-Five and knowing very little about the events, I don’t believe I am qualified to comment.

What I do know though is, Billy Pilgrim was not only a time-traveller, but he believed himself to have been captured by aliens and taken to a planet named Tralfamadore, where he was exhibited to the Tralfamadorians as an exotic creature. While there, he had a glamorous movie star (also from earth) as his wife, and they had a child together. Back on earth, Billy was married to an obese woman whose father set him up in business as an optometrist. The diamond in Billy’s wife’s engagement ring was obtained in Dresden while he was a prisoner of war.

Billy’s story is circular, with surprising revelations in the end. I want to believe stories, but with each revelation, I was left more and more uncertain of what to believe, even though the characters were very real to me. They are sometimes ridiculous, often funny, sometimes tragic, and always completely believable.

I don’t know if I have sold Slaughterhouse-Five very well in this review, but I do believe it is a story which should be read. I’m certain I will read it again.




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