Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read all of his major works (except for Cat’s Cradle for whatever reason. It’s high up on my list) and recently decided to read his semi-autobiographical book A Man Without a Country. This book was absolutely sublime. It had everything I love about Kurt Vonnegut coupled with a more candid and laid back style than some of his novels. I could not put it down. It was so enjoyable.
Vonnegut wrote this as he approached the end of his life. The year was 2005 and the current state of America reflected a lot of what Vonnegut hated. With a warmongering, right-wing President in office and people glued to their TV sets, he had a lot to complain about. And complain he does, but it never seems grumpy or annoying. Vonnegut just feels tired, as if he’s sad to be leaving this life with his country in such a mess. I use the term “his country” tentatively. As he reminds us many times in his book Vonnegut doesn’t really consider himself American. He is a man without a country.
The satire is fine but what really made this book wonderful was Vonnegut’s straight forward and humorous outlook on life. At the age of 82 he had seen a lot, and I am so happy that he spent the time to write down some final words for us. Reading A Man Without a Country is like sitting down and talking with an old mentor who is about to pass on. He may seem scatterbrained at times, but what he has important things to say and you should listen. Vonnegut does a great job making you feel like he is just talking to you, and his advice is caring and tender. He acts as a grandfather, a mentor and a really good friend making A Man Without a Country is his warmest and most accessible work. This brief snapshot into the life of a great man getting old is nothing short of a literary treasure, one that is sure to gain popularity over time.
Just so you get a taste of this book, here are some of my favorite quotes:
- ‘Socialism’ is no more an evil word than Christianity. Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society where all men, women and children are created equal and shall not starve.
- I think that novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.
- We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.
- What you can become is the miracle you were born to be through the work that you do.
- Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a mouse.
- For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But often with tears in their eyes, the demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted everywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
- Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of: Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind!
- I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’
- Those of us who had imagination circuits built can look in someone’s face and see stories there; to everyone else, a face will just be a face.