1000 Books In 10 Years;Vol. 69 and 70: Mother Night And The Sirens Of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut has endeared himself to many readers with his satiric wit, dark humour and outrageous narratives, and in these two novels he offers readers nothing short of what they would expect having reader other works.

Mother Night is essentially a 268 page suicide note written by an American spy who took on the role of a propagandist for the Nazis so that he could deliver information to the allies via his anti-Semitic radio broadcasts, only to be charged with war crimes after the war. Its hilarious. In it Vonnegut uses a first person narrative and shows us that he is the master of transgressive fiction (and when comparing the two authors, we also see how heavy an influence Vonnegut has had on Chuck Palahniuk). The narrator grapples with the fact that, by throwing himself so completely into his role as propagandist, he may have caused more harm than good. He helped to inspire hatred for the Jews and his nightly radio broadcasts maintained that hatred throughout the war. His German father-in-law, who always suspected that he was an American spy, tells him at the conclusion of the war that he doesn’t care whether he was a spy or not, because at the end of the day he did his job so well that he helped the Nazis more than he ever could have hurt them. Even the American who recruited him chastises him for being so enthralled in his role, and as he goes into hiding after the war, he discovers that the only people who are willing to defend him are those who never realized he was a spy and so thought him a hero for having the courage to speak, what they see as the truth, about Zionists hell bent on taking over the world. The novels pace is even and steady and Vonnegut makes it easy to pick up and hard to put down.

The Sirens Of Titan is a classic Vonnegut novel in the mould of Cat’s Cradle, Slapstic or Slaughterhouse-Five, a broad reaching science fiction that is more fantasy than science fiction. It isn’t as hard to put down as Mother Night, and isn’t paced as evenly, and there are times when one might get the impression that the satire has been put aside for the sake of the narrative. As is the case with most of Vonnegut’s work, there are examinations of heard behaviour, people who follow orders unquestioningly, and manipulation of emotions, creating clear parallels with the Nazi regime of WWII, but rather than formulating a black and white dichotomy, Vonnegut suggests ultimately that such things serve a purpose and help humanity to grow, an optimistic interpretation which I hope is the case, though I see little evidence of it personally. Mother’s Night could be picked up and enjoyed by just about anybody, The Sirens Of Titan however is better suited to readers who appreciate satire and fantastic science fiction. Worth reading, but not for everybody.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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