Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut is not a comfortable, “fun” book. It is not optimistic, clean, or uplifting. It is, however, real. Despite the fact that the book is filled with fantastical situations and mythical creatures, Vonnegut never strays far from the truth. A veteran himself, Kurt Vonnegut tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim, who fights in World War II and experiences the Dresden Bombings.
Throughout the novel, Billy interacts with aliens who offer interesting opinions on the human condition. The choice to include otherworldly and seemingly omniscient beings in a time where the future was not guaranteed, was a creative decision executed perfectly by Vonnegut. These aliens provide not only well-needed comic relief, but allow the reader to look at the world from a fresh and foreign point of view. It may seem impossible to laugh during a book about World War II, but somehow, you will. Sometimes, it’s the sheer absurdity of the situation the protagonist has gotten himself into, or a comment made about a human habit we all think is normal (until viewed from the aliens’ perspective).
The novel is highly praised as one of the best anti-war books of all time, and for good reason. Vonnegut never glorifies war or death, and even the title The Children’s Crusade ensures the reader never forgets that it is children – mostly young men with so much life ahead of them – who are losing their lives in wartime. All aspects of war are shown, including the tragic, ugly moments most people prefer to look away from. Not only do you feel the soldiers’ pain, but you also understand the emotions of the innocent civilians who lose everything to the war. This novel shows that there are no upsides to war – everyone is affected in some way. Overall, the anti-war content was brutal, but it’s a message that needed to be sent.
The way in which Vonnegut’s writing simplifies horrifying situations and shows them through the eyes of a young soldier is heartbreakingly beautiful. Vonnegut’s unusual writing style forces us out of our comfort zone, and takes us to different points in time without any obvious order. There is also a very thin line between what humans understand to be true and what Vonnegut believes to be true. Since the novel is so engaging, keeping the two ideas separate becomes increasingly difficult as the book progresses. The reader is left feeling manipulated, but in a way that makes you appreciate the perspectives presented. Vonnegut brings you into his mind, showing you the way he views and interprets the world.
There is something undeniably true, raw, and believable about the novel. Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a life-changing, eye-opening book everyone should read at least once in their life.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.