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Book review: Slaughterhouse 5


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Tilburg International Club Expat Book Club3 Sept 2019. by Anne van Oorschot. Our first gathering of the Book Club took place on September 4th – very early in the club year and prior to the tíc Welcome Event. That may explain why we were quite a small group, including 1 brand new member. We had all read the book – not hard since we’d had the entire summer and it was quite a short story.

As a young man and a prisoner of war, Kurt Vonnegut witnessed the 1945 US fire-bombing of Dresden in Germany, which reduced the once beautiful city to rubble and claimed the lives of thousands of its citizens. This atrocious act was a recurring theme in the book, and more horrific details of the bombing aftermath come out as the story progressed.

An interesting fact is that while between 35,000 and 135,000 people were killed by Allied bombing in Dresden – (historians still argue over the number of deaths; there were so many refugees in the city at the time!) – the American prisoners’ of war in the city survived the bombing. This is because they were housed in the naturally cool meat storage structures that had been carved into the rocky hills in the city, the book’s author being assigned to Slaughterhouse #5.

The book is a mix of reality and fantasy with the main character, Billy Pilgrim, being a time-traveler and an attraction in a zoo on alien planet, as well as a prisoner of war, optometrist, husband and father. While some of us had trouble appreciating his recounting of life’s tragedies with the bland and continual “…and so it goes” – its repetition did eventually establish a stronger message. How do you write about innocence faced with apocalypse? Maybe this combination of reality and fantasy is the only way. Slaughterhouse Five is considered one of the world’s great anti-war books.

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