Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut

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Slaughterhouse-Five audio bookWhat’s it about? This work is considered one of the most important novels of the 20th Century.  In a nutshell, it’s about the bombing of Dresden during World War II.  Billy Pilgrim, a Chaplain’s Assistant for theU.S. military, is captured by the German’s during the Battle of the Bulge.  Somehow, Billy manages to live through the capture, unscathed by theDresden bombing, and survive the war.  As he’s living out his war memories, Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time,” and is able to jump between different time periods in his life.  These time periods vary.  At times, you are living out his daughter’s wedding, where Billy Pilgrim is kidnapped by outer space beings from the planet Tralfamadore.  At Tralfamadore, Billy is kept in a zoo, living with a former pornographic film star named Montana Wildhack as his partner, as the Tralfamadorians observe their human trains and behavior.

Back on earth, Billy Pilgrim lives a mundane life as an optometrist, who struggles at suppressing his maddening obsession with telling the world about his outer space time travels.  Vonnegut’s fatalism is expressed by the fact that Pilgrim’s life and death proceed as planned, despite the fact that he is fully aware of what he is to expect from each event and decision.  Throughout these distant moments in Billy Pilgrim’s existence, he is repeatedly sent back to re-live World War II and the Dresden bombing.

Is the narrator any good? Ethan Hawke adds another facet to this audio book that’s already bouncing with turns and twists.  Mr. Hawke’s voice is lively and morphs into every complex character within the book.  He convinces you that he’s German, that he’s an American from Indianapolis, or that he’s even the sound of birds after a massacre.  Throughout the book, Vonnegut includes a lot of traditional limerick to help express his characters’ point of view, which Mr. Hawke reads on key, with melody and all.

The verdict? Slaughterhouse-Five is a rare book.  It’s funny, yet has its extremely poignant and poetic moments.  Having a talented actor like Ethan Hawke read this audio book highlights the wonderfully subtle mood changes that occur throughout this masterpiece.  As I was listening to this audio book, I couldn’t help but pause it at times, think, and go back to enjoying this cerebral ride.  If you are interested in a literary work that trespasses into every genre without delicate grace, but a very unique and brash character, I highly recommend the Slaughterhouse-Five audio book experience.