Vonnegut in Retrospect: Son reads at Brattle

by Beacon Staff • April 2, 2008

Although he is no longer with us, author Kurt Vonnegut's words still echo through this generation. In his posthumously-published collection of writings, Armageddon in Retrospect, Vonnegut continues his stylized exploration through literature with a reflection upon his own experiences, as well as fictionalized accounts of war.

The work features an introduction by Vonnegut's son, Mark, who helped put the collection together. On April 4, Mark will present and discuss Armageddon in Retrospect at 6 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre.

Vonnegut's last published book is not only reputable for its swan song status. Armageddon in Retrospect recounts twelve stories about both war and peace. This new collection brings together both poignant true stories of Vonnegut's own wartime experience and fictional tales about both the terrors of war and the heroism it can bring out in individuals. One of the true stories describes the bombings on Dresden that occurred during World War II, an incident that inspired Vonnegut's most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five.

This work has become a staple in American literature, with students in high school and college classrooms across the country assigned to read it each year. Armageddon in Retrospect helps to reveal a new side of the experiences presented within Slaughterhouse-Five.

The narrator of Slaughterhouse-Five, who is presumably Vonnegut himself, states, "That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book."

While somewhat based on his experiences, Slaughterhouse-Five recounts a very select period of time, whereas this new work presents several different stories.

Vonnegut's style and voice is alive and well within Armageddon. Both his fans and those new to his work will be presented with something truly special. These writings are previously unpublished and allow several views into Vonnegut's personal beliefs about war and peace.

In the book, Vonnegut discusses his experience at Dresden. "We hit every blessed church, hospital, school, museum, theater, your university, the zoo and every apartment building in town, but we honestly weren't trying hard to do it...So sorry. Saturation bombing is all the rage these days," he wrote.

Through these brief looks at the new work, it is apparent that Vonnegut's clear voice is just as strong as ever. Aside from stories and experiences, the collection also contains a letter Vonnegut wrote to his family during World War II while he was a prison of war.

This new book allows the reader into a world that Vonnegut rarely let show. In an interview with Penguin Group USA, Mark offers a view of his father, "I knew he got the crap beat out of him for standing up to the German guards and telling them they couldn't treat his men the way they were."

While fans of Vonnegut may think of him as an author with a satirical voice, it seems as though this new collection offers a different view of the author and the immense trials and tribulations he went through during World War II that made him not just a writer but a true American hero.

Even while maintaining his trademark wit, Vonnegut shows true compassion for his charcters even when his commanders disagreed with his views. This is an important read for old and new Vonnegut fans alike.

Harvard Book Store is sponsoring this event. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the bookstore or by credit card over the phone (617-661-1515).