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Not even death can silence cult writer


Armageddon in Retrospect

Kurt Vonnegut is a person I would have liked to meet. His collected short stories mixed with small drawings in “Armageddon in Retrospect” make me imagine him as someone approaching even the hardest things in life with a joke. But, unfortunately, the book was published one year after his death on April 11, 2007.

Armageddon in Retrospect starts off with speech held in Indianapolis in the United States, on April 27, 2007, 16 days after Vonnegut’s death. The speech was delivered by Vonnegut’s son, Mark Vonnegut. Nothing is left untouched. The son Vonnegut goes from trying to find something that every American could agree upon, through his own upbringing to what life is all about.

“I asked Mark a while back what life was all about, since I didn’t have a clue. He said, ‘Dad, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’ Whatever it is. ‘Whatever it is.’ Not bad. That one could be a keeper,” he writes, adding that we should be kind to each other. But we should also stop being so serious, jokes help a lot, and getting a dog could be a good idea.

After the speech, 11 previous unpublished short stories follow, all focusing on war and peace. Many of the stories are about soldiers in Europe during the Second World War.

Kurt Vonnegut was a soldier at the time and ended up a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany, where he witnessed the fire bombs that destroyed the city in February 1945.

The stories are all simple, describing everyday life in war. The characters face not only fear but also boredom, contradictions, hope and disappointment.

The story “Happy Birthday, 1951,” will linger in my mind for a long time. It is about an old man and a boy who lived in the ruins of a city for seven years. One day the old man realizes that the boy doesn’t have a birthday, and asks the boy to pick a day. They decide to celebrate the next day. The old man wants to give the boy a very special present; he wants the boy to experience a day without war. Together they walk into the woods, and the old man finds a spot where they cannot see the ruins. The old man takes a rest, but then the boy disappears. The old man starts looking for him, and then, suddenly, he reappears, shouting, “Bang!”

None of the stories provide answers; instead, they pose questions. What happens to people who live too long in war? What kind of things does war makes us do? What happens when people we expect as saviors are just as bad as those we saw as oppressors? All are just as important now as they were during World War II.

The stories are not the only narratives in the book. Around the titles small drawings of people with weapons and tanks appear. There are also pages with drawings and sentences on Post-it looking papers.

One of my favorites is a skull with Vonnegut’s straggling letters under it saying “Trust me.” Another one reads: “My idea of a real man’s man is a guy who knows gun safety,” with black capital letters.

As with his writings, the drawings are straightforward, honest and uncensored. Sometimes, I feel he is too cynical, leaving me with no hope, but then he posts a joke, and I like him again.

With the combination of words and drawings, Vonnegut is clearly criticizing war, society and militarism, in his own way.

In one of the stories, the character Dr. Tarbell, says: “Most of the really big ideas have come from intelligent playfulness. All the sober, thin-lipped concentration is really just a matter of tidying up around the fringes of the big ideas.”

Vonnegut seems to have been just that kind of intelligent, playful person.

It’s just such a pity he is dead.

Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Genre: Essays and fiction
Publisher: Putnam Adult

By Ida Grandas Contributing Writer []
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