Halfway done! Last night I finished my fiftieth book of the year, Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut. I am still about eight books behind schedule, but definitely still have time to get to the hundred mark before the end of the year. In the next day or two I will post my top ten list out of the books I have tackled so far.
I have previously read Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, and The Sirens of Titan. I love Vonnegut’s dark humor and apparent nonchalance. I am also a long-time science fiction nerd, so these other books were doubly enjoyable to me. That said, Mother Night might be my favorite Vonnegut book. It has no elements of science fiction, but is so intelligently written that it is irresistible.
Mother Night is presented as the memoir of Howard W. Campbell, Jr. Campbell is writing his story in the days leading up to his trial as a war criminal in Israel. Campbell is an American who emigrated to Germany with his parents shortly after World War I. He becomes a moderately successful playwright and marries a beautiful German actress. As World War II looms, Campbell is approached by Frank Wirtanen, an American spymaster. Wirtanen tries to convince Campbell to climb as high as possible into the Nazi propaganda machine, from whence he will broadcast secret messages to the Allies. Wirtanen tells Campbell that no response is needed, the Allies will know by the jobs he takes during the war if he is on their side. Campbell becomes a broadcaster of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda, using changes in his pace and inflection to send messages to the Allies. He becomes one of the most hated members of the Nazi regime. After the war, the US can’t openly claim Campbell, so he must live a life of obscurity. His cover is ultimately blown and he is taken to Israel to be tried for his complicity in the Holocaust.
I cannot praise this book enough. It features all of the best elements of Vonnegut’s writing. His trademark wit is on full display, and the irony of Campbell’s situation is heartbreaking. I intentionally didn’t go into much detail about the events in his life following the war. In order to fully appreciate the message, you have to read it for yourself. It is short and reads very quickly. In a brief introduction, Vonnegut states that “This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it is a marvelous moral, I just happen to know what it is.” I would disagree with Mr. Vonnegut on that point. It is a marvellous moral. In his words, the moral of the story is “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” If the humor, wit, irony, and heartbreak aren’t enough to convince you, then read this book for that moral.
The Current Count:
50 Read, 50 To Go