I read this book back in school. i should have. Well, I did, kind of. But my memories of it were kind of scarce, so I did something i rarely do, I read it a second time. And I have to admit, now being able to make somewhat better use of the English language makes the experience much more enjoyable.
The book is an anti-war story, surely a thing that propelled its popularity when it was published first in 1969. What makes it a bit more peculiar in that genre, is that it is anti-world-war-two. This is not easy, when the point of view is the one of the allies, because common sense says that this war was necessary to fight nazism.
But still it is possible to make a statement against war in general, even in this case. The author chose an biographical setting, the survival of the massive bombing of Dresden in the last days of that war, an event that he survived as did the protagonist of the book. But read for yourself.
Around this key is a fantastic story to underline the lunacy of war. There is the war. And there is time travel. And there are aliens. And a zoo. Sex in the zoo. But read for yourself.
The book is to be praised for making its points not with moralizing trigger fingers, but with absurdity, and, not to the least, dry humour. It is inhabitated by weak characters. Not by the political correct weak characters who wrap their weakness in violence and show their weakness only in the end, or maybe never. No, mostly really weak characters, in a form of weakness that would never allow a war if those characters would matter. Okay, there are also Weary and Lazarro and Rumfoord. They are this other kind of weak. And even the Tralfalmadorians have their weak moments all the time. But read for yourself.
What often warps good books to great books are points of truths; something that first seems too easy to comprehend, but then one feels the flickering bulb hovering above the head; that stands for 'oh yes, really'. Vonnegut tells something about being poor in the US, exempli gratia. And about greed. But read for yourself:
“Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer.”
So it goes.
Another warp factor could be that simple truths are then exposed as not so simple at all. War. Bad. Military? As well.
“Robert was wearing the uniform of the famous Green Berets. Robert's hair was short, was wheat-colored bristles. Robert was clean and neat. He was decorated with a Purple Heart and a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with two clusters.
This was a boy who had flunked out of hight school, who had been an alcoholic at sixteen, who had run with a rotten bunch of kids, who had been arrested for tipping over hundreds of tombstones in a Catholic cemetery one time. He was all straightened out now. His posture was wonderful and his shoes were shined and his trousers were pressed, and he was a leader of men.” (page 126)
So it went.