So it goes…
VONNEGUT, Kurt, Jr. Slaughterhouse-Five or the Children's Crusade. New York: Delacorte Press, 1969.
8vo., original blue cloth boards, author's facsimile signature in gilt to upper cover; lettered in black, red and gilt to spine; black end papers; original unclipped pictorial dust jacket designed by Paul Bacon; pp. [xiv], 186, [viii]; slight spotting to blue cloth; some sunning to wrapper; minimal marks to upper panel of wrapper; light spotting to upper and outer edges; contemporary ownership inscription in ink to half-title; internally bright and clean, a very good copy.
A sci-fi infused anti-war novel, centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden during the Second World War. Vonnegut was, at the time, an American prisoner of war, and survived the bombings from 60 feet underground in the meat locker of a derelict slaughterhouse, together with fellow POWs and a couple of dazed German guards. Emerging to rubble, ash and twisted metal, they discovered that between 18,000 and 25,000 people had been killed. Often described as one of the greatest anti-war books, it took him more than 20 years to put this experience into words. After all, as Charles J. Shields writes in Vonnegut’s biography, And So It Goes: “How to write about a tremendous event of war that he had been there for, and yet had not been there for, because he was suspended underground?” Vonnegut himself wrote of the novel, "there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again."
With this backdrop, it would be natural to think that Slaughterhouse Five was a dark and chilling book. However, the novel concentrates more on the absurdity of war, flitting back and forth between the US, 1940's Germany and Tralfamadore, an alien planet where Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut's semi- autobiographical protagonist, finds himself at one moment being viewed as a specimen in an extra-terrestrial Zoo, and the next wandering a post-apocalyptic city looking for corpses. It is in this way that Vonnegut expertly combines black humour, irony, the truth and the absurd.
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the novel’s initial publication.