As I flipped through Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five, it felt like I was being mesmerized by a kaleidescope: at its end, another rotated the wheel and produced a succession of actions, each containing bits of earlier ones that produced some continuity. A tough read, at the start, but its sheer absurdity kept me involved.

The centerpiece of Slaughterhouse-Five was the Allied firebombing of Dresden, a world-renowned cultural center in Germany, which the author survived as a POW in the larder of that building. This occurred in April 1945, weeks before the end of World War II. So psychically scorched was he that the novel only appeared years later: after the trashing of multiple outlines and drafts and fifteen thousand words. Only with the invention of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, his doppelganger, did the novel take shape; he would tell Vonnegut’s story, but with embellishments. 

Following his Dresden experience Billy became “unstuck in time,” and subject to the whims of extraterrestrials living on the planet Tralfamadore. Whenever stressed, he could also time travel to another time/place that soothed his chronic anxiety and introversion.

His anemic world, like out own, was filled with undeveloped characters that go through the motions of living, until swallowed by death and the author’s often quoted comment, “And so it goes.” the scene-changer that alters the story line toward another manifestation of destruction and death.

Curious that Slaughterhouse-Five still sparks moral dread, though composed decades before our own. On a feeling level, I sense the present global mayhem: the prevalence of denial, escalating power grabs, minimizing of values, and the garble of speech. The killing of psyche and body continue, perhaps more cunningly now than the 1960s.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five has held up a mirror to our times: its reflection demands change, and it must begin with me.