Friday, May 9, 2008

A Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut

Disclaimer thingy: cross-posted at the Spring Reading Challenge.

A Man Without A Country is a collection of twelve essays written by Kurt Vonnegut over a five year span. The copyright date is 2005, so you can do the math if you're so inclined.

I assume anyone reading this post is familiar with at least some of Vonnegut's work, so I won't go into that.

The essays cover a broad array of topics, but there are some recurring themes. In general, although Vonnegut's writing is frequently very humorous, his outlook on the future of humans and planet earth is rather grim. Overall, I found reading this book to be an enjoyable experience despite the occasionally depressing elements. Vonnegut was an incredibly intelligent writer and human being and had a gift for being able to cut through all the crap and get right to the heart of things.

There is a ton of quotable and interesting material in this book, but here are a few things that I found particularly thought provoking:

Vonnegut's observation that the famous Karl Marx quote "religion is the opium of the people" is often misunderstood. He reminds us that, when Marx made that statement in 1844, opium and opium derivatives were the only effective pain relievers available. Rather than a blanket condemnation of religion, Marx apparently was observing that religion can be a great comfort to people in times of strife. I think Vonnegut's point is that socialism and religion are not mutually exclusive.

Vonnegut believed that humor is a way in which people deal with things that are extremely upsetting. Sometimes a funny person simply loses the ability to look at things humorously (Mark Twain, who, along with Abraham Lincoln, seems to have been very influential on Vonnegut's life and career as a writer, was used as an example; apparently Twain gave up on the human race in the last years of his life.) As he grew older and less optimistic for the future, Vonnegut wondered if he, himself was losing the ability to be funny.

While Vonnegut apparently believed in a god (he made conflicting statements on this point), he also had this to say: "Our president is a Christian? So was Adolf Hitler."

Another quote I liked: "We are here on earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."

And another: "You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals."

And, finally, the epitaph Vonnegut wanted on his tombstone (he died in 2007, I don't know if he got his wish. I hope he did.)


I think this was a good book. I give it a 9 on a scale of 10. Or, in movie lingo, two enthusiastic, well-lubricated thumbs way, way up.

1 comment:

Suzy said...

Goddammit, babies, you've got to be kind.