So it goes!
At a first glance, after finishing ready this book, I thought that it’s a good book, but nothing too special. But after giving it another couples of days of thinking, I should admit that we are talking about a master-piece.
Slaughterhouse Five is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier named Billy Pilgrim. Billy is a disoriented, fatalistic, and ill-trained American soldier who refuses to fight (“Billy wouldn’t do anything to save himself”). He does not like war and is captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Billy’s near death is the consequence of a string of events. Before the Germans capture Billy, he meets Roland Weary, a jingoist character and bully, just out of childhood like Billy, who constantly chastises him for his lack of enthusiasm for war. When captured, the Germans confiscate everything Weary has, including his boots, giving him hinged, wooden clogs to wear; Weary eventually dies of gangrene caused by the clogs in Luxembourg. While dying in a railcar full of prisoners, Weary manages to convince another soldier, Paul Lazzaro, that Billy is to blame. Lazzaro vows to avenge Weary’s death by killing Billy, because revenge is “the sweetest thing in life.”
At this moment, Billy becomes “unstuck in time”, and he experiences moments from various points in his life. Billy and the other prisoners are transported to Luxembourg. By 1945, the prisoners are transported to Dresden to perform “contract labor”. The Germans put Billy and his fellow prisoners in a disused slaughterhouse in Dresden. Their building is known as “Schlachthof-fünf” (“Slaughterhouse Five”). During the bombing, the prisoners of war and German guards hide in a deep cellar. Because of their hiding place, they are some of the few survivors of the firestorm caused by allied bombing between 13 and 15 February 1945. After the war in May 1945 he is transported from Germany to the United States, receiving an honorable discharge from service in July 1945.
A few months after the war ends, Billy is institutionalized with post-traumatic stress disorder and put into psychiatric care to recover. A man named Eliot Rosewater introduces Billy to the novels of an obscure science fiction author named Kilgore Trout. Once Billy is released, he marries Valencia Merble. Valencia’s father owns the Ilium School of Optometry, which Billy later attends. In 1947, Billy and Valencia’s first child Robert is born, and two years later they have a daughter named Barbara. On Barbara’s wedding night, Billy is captured by an alien space ship and taken to a planet billions of miles away from Earth called Tralfamadore. On Tralfamadore, Billy meets a porn star, also abducted, named Montana Wildhack, who disappeared and is believed to have drowned herself in the Pacific Ocean. She and Billy fall in love and have a child together. Billy is sent back to Earth to relive past or future moments of his life.
In 1968, Billy and a copilot are the only survivors of a plane crash. Valencia dies of carbon monoxide poisoning while driving to the hospital where Billy is being treated. Billy shares a hospital room with Bertram Rumfoord, a Harvard history professor. Billy talks about the bombing of Dresden and the professor claims it was justified.
Billy’s daughter takes him home to Ilium. He sneaks out and drives to New York City and checks in to a hotel. That evening he wanders around Times Square and visits a bookstore featuring pornography. Billy sees some Kilgore Trout books and reads them. That night he goes on a radio show where he starts talking about his time-travels to Tralfamadore and is kicked out of the studio. He returns to his hotel room, falls asleep and time-travels back to 1945 Dresden where the book ends. (wikipedia.org)
The line ‘So it goes’ is the pure essence of the whole book. Billy used to say it everytime he heard of someone dying. He had the power to see death as something that it actually is, a natural event that can and will happen to all of us. Nothing more than that. It can be seen as a comic relief, the line being used no more than 106 times in the book.
Slaughterhouse Five is a fast reading book, but after finishing you need time to understand its hidden meanings.