Book Review: Armageddon In Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut

Armageddon In RetrospectOn the anniversary of his death, Kurt Vonnegut’s son, Mark Vonnegut, released this latest collection by the famous author.  It includes several of his early short stories, along with an essay, a speech, and a letter to his parents written from a prisoner of war repatriation camp in France towards the end of World War Two. Armageddon In Retrospect opens with an introduction written by Mark Vonnegut, providing a brief glimpse into the writing habits and lifestyle of his father.

The book includes a written copy of Vonnegut’s speech presented at Butler University’s Clowes Hall. Always a joker, this speech provides a taste of some of the vintage Vonnegut sense of humor.

Perhaps the most moving sample included is a simple letter, written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. to his parents, after he was released as a prisoner of war in World War Two. During this time period, Vonnegut witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden by American troops. These two events, being a P.O.W. in WWII and witnessing the bombing of Dresden, seemed to be the primary pivotal events that shaped and influenced much of the recurring themes throughout Vonnegut’s writing. They provide the tone and the framework for Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions, among others. The short stories included in Armageddon In Retrospect are further examples of the impact of these themes throughout Vonnegut’s work. They serve as his early attempts at creating tales from his memories of these tragic events.

From Wailing Shall Be In All Streets:

The occupying Russians, when they discovered that we were Americans, embraced us and congratulated us on the complete desolation our planes had wrought. We accepted their congratulations with good grace and proper modesty, but I felt then as I feel now, that I would have given my life to save Dresden for the World’s generations to come. That is how everyone should feel about every city on Earth.

A couple of the short stories included in the book, such as Great Day and Armageddon In Retrospect (for which the book is titled), venture into Vonnegut’s more whimsical science fiction-like settings.

Although perhaps not the best examples of his work, these stories do provide a framework for some of Vonnegut’s underlying themes. I would venture to guess that one reason Vonnegut did not seek publication for these stories during his lifetime was that they were early exercises in honing his own voice and attempting to write about these dramatic events. For someone new to Vonnegut’s work, I would recommend starting with one or two of his novels that better represent both his writing style as well as his satire, such as Slapstick or Sirens of Titan.

I expect that this book would be appreciated by loyal Vonnegut fans as further insight into the work and musings of the author who experienced much in his 84 years and felt compelled to write about his, as he put it, “disgust with civilization” in a way that caused many of his readers to seriously reflect yet still at times laugh about our own dismal state of affairs.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for this nice review, Lisa. 🙂

    I feel like a have a tiny connection with Kurt Vonnegut; Edward Crone, the inspiration for Billy Pilgrim in “Slaughterhouse Five”, is buried in Rochester NY, where I live. Vonnegut visited the grave, and wrote a check so that flowers are placed there every Memorial Day. He told the caretaker to tell people that it’s Billy Pilgrim’s grave.

    I also have an autographed copy of “Breakfast of Champions” and “Welcome To The Monkey House”- gifts from my husband.

    I’m not sure I qualify as a loyal Vonnegut fan, but he certainly was an interesting person with a unique voice.

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