Sunday, May 04, 2008

Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut

Recently, Nonanon praised Armageddon in Retrospect, a new volume of previously unpublished pieces by the late Kurt Vonnegut. Now that I have read it, I agree. The short stories, his letter to his family from post-World War II Europe, and the speech Vonnegut gave in Indianapolis just before he died are all filled with wit, candor, and compassion. Together they make a bold statement about the futility of war and the ethics of victory (if there really is such a thing in war).

I wonder why the stories sat unpublished. Was Vonnegut not satisfied with them or did he just move on to other projects so quickly that they were left behind? Several are set in Dresden during and after the Allies leveling of the city at war's end, when many children, women, seniors, and other noncombatants were killed needlessly, arbitrarily. Collateral damage. Maybe the author felt that he had said enough with Slaughterhouse Five. Whatever the reason, now is a good time for them to emerge, as they speak well to the generation questioning the sense of the war in Iraq.

My favorite story is "The Unicorn Trap" set in the time of William the Conqueror's consolidation of control in England. I like the conscientious serf who does not want to become a tax collector, denying his wife upward mobility. I also especially like "The Commandant's Desk," one of several stories around the issue of soldiers looting the homes and shops of the towns that they liberated. The cabinet maker is another vehicle for Vonnegut's voice.

Though the book can be put in the 80os, I think it will be more easily found by readers in the fiction collection. All public libraries should add this treasure of Vonnegut.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Armageddon in Retrospect. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2008. ISBN 9780399155086

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