Reading Kurt Vonnegut's Cats Cradle was a transformative literary experience in my young (15 years old) life.
Last week, timed to the first anniversary of Kurt's death, Armageddon In Retrospect was released. This is a collection of never before published Vonnegut stories loosely themed on the horrors of war, the importance of peace and the experience of being a prisoner of war..
The book starts with a wonderful piece by Mark Vonnegut talking about his Dad. He reminds us of his father's incredible gift as a storyteller and his love and admiration come through in every line. The introduction all by its self makes the book worth buying.
The book contains twelve pieces in all: His last speech, a copy of a letter to his parents, three stories about POWs that explore the thin line between complicity and survival and more. There is a wonderful story about hunger and food obsessed GIs along with a couple of dark of reflective pieces written about the aftermath of war in times of peace. The rest of the book covers some familiar Vonnegut territory: four stories about the bombing of Dresden which are the precursors of Slaughterhouse Five and a piece that is clearly the beginnings of what later because Mother Night.
The thing that struck me most was how serious these pieces are. The publisher claims that they are written with "Vonnegut's trademark rueful humor." I disagree. These pieces are full of raw emotion. They are certainly funny in places, but it is obvious that Vonnegut has not yet developed his more dispassionate ironic observer persona or rueful voice.
It would have been nice if there had more connective material in the book like information about when these pieces were written. But that is a minor complaint.
They are, finally, incredibly disturbing, powerful and primitive. I have no idea how a "regular person" would view them but for a Vonnegut fan they are a fascinating study in how a writer develops this voice and his craft.
Here's the official stuff:
To be published on the first anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut's death in April 2007, Armageddon in Retrospect is a collection of twelve new and unpublished writings on war and peace.
Written with Vonnegut's trademark rueful humor, the pieces range from a visceral nonfiction recollection of the destruction of Dresden during World War II-a piece that is as timely today as it was then-to a painfully funny story about three privates and their fantasies of the perfect first meal upon returning home from war; to a darker and more poignant story about the impossibility of shielding our children from the temptations of violence.
This is a volume that says as much about the times in which we live as it does about the genius of the man who wrote it. Also included here is Vonnegut's last speech, as well as an assortment of his drawings, and an introduction by the author's son, Mark Vonnegut.