Or The Children’s Crusade
A Duty-Dance With Death
By Kurt Vonnegut
Dial Press Trade Paperback
Ok, well I’ll try this again. It’s bad when a book review blog takes a several month break from reading books and goes traveling. I’m back now. Seat firmly planted in chair.
I’ve said it before: I like Vonnegut. But, he gets a bit too vulgar for my tastes. I suppose it could be argued that war is vulgar, so a book about war must be vulgar. I suppose.
Vonnegut’s main character, Billy Pilgrim, has gotten unstuck in time and has traveled to another planet where he has learned not to fear death. Because death is only one moment of many moments and the other moments were for the most part happy. So you may die in one moment but there are plenty more when you are alive.
I like Vonnegut’s big ideas. Sort of like Robert Heinlein’s big ideas. Fleshing them out is tricky.
Vonnegut fought in World War II and much of what happened in the book really happened. The big moment in this book is the fire bombing of Dresden. Airplanes flew over that city and dropped incendiary material on the whole city. People burned alive. Everything burned. All the buildings were destroyed. Only those who were able to shelter underground survived. Not many people survived.
“The irony is so great. A whole city gets burned down, and thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot. And he’s given a regular trial, and then he’s shot by a firing squad.”
I like the way Vonnegut describes himself as a writer:
“A trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations…”
World War II was bad. Shockingly bad. But people have been doing bad things for ages. Vonnegut subtitles his book the Children’s Crusade. The Children’s Crusade started in 1213, “when two monks got the idea of raising armies of children in Germany and France and selling them in North Africa as slaves. Thirty thousand children volunteered…about half of them drowned in shipwrecks…”
The book is jumbled and jangled. Vonnegut explains this:
“…there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.”
“I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.”
People are not supposed to look back, says Vonnegut:
“…Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.”
I’ve almost stopped myself from looking back. I can see there’s no point to it. Time marches forward. The past is gone. There all kinds of songs about it.
“Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.”
I feel spastic in time too. I don’t know what to make of it. I feel like I’ve been asleep and have woken myself up. I am home now, I keep telling myself. Home.
Dresden, fire bombings, Children’s Crusades, birds.
I’ve gotta read something less depressing.