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Galapagos: A Novel [Paperback]

Kurt Vonnegut
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
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Product Description

From School Library Journal

YA Leon Trout, the ghost of a decapitated shipbuilder, narrates the humorous, ironic and sometimes carping decline of the human race, as seen through the eyes and minds of the survivors of a doomed cruise to the Galapagos Islands. Vonnegut's cast of unlikely Adams and Eves setting out in a Noah's ark includes Mary Hepburn, an American biology teacher and recent widow; Zenji Hiroguchi, a Japanese computer genius (who does not make it to the ship, although his language-translating and quotation-spouting computer does); his wife, Hisako, carrying radiated genes from the atomic bombs; James Wait, who has made a fortune marrying elderly women; and Captain Aolph von Kleist. Also included: six orphaned girls of the Kana-bono cannibal tribe, who will become the founding mothers of the fisherfolk after bacteria render all other women infertile. Serious fans of Vonnegut's wry and ribald prose will welcome this tale of the devolution of superbrained humans into gentle swimmers with small brains, but others may find this Darwinian survival tale too packed with ecological and sociological details that trap the story line in a series of literary devices, albeit very clever ones. Mary T. Gerrity, Queen Anne School, Upper Marlboro, Md.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

For many Vonnegut fans, Galapagos will be a disappointment. The story is set ``one million years ago, back in 1986 A.D.'' and concerns the maiden voyage of the Bahia de Darwin to the Galapa gos Islands. The narrator is a ghost, and the main characters are those involved with the cruise. As the narrative devel ops, we learn that people have evolved from having ``big brains'' that always get them in trouble, to creatures with flippersbut they keep getting eaten by sharks. The narration jumps back and forth between past and future, so that there is no real sense of what life is like in the ``present'' of the story, and it is difficult to grasp what these new hu mans are really like. Vonnegut's usual stylistic devices just don't work here. Buy for demand. Susan Avallone, ``Library Journal''
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“The best Vonnegut novel yet!”—John Irving

“Beautiful . . . provocative, arresting reading.”—USA Today

“A madcap genealogical adventure . . . Vonnegut is a postmodern Mark Twain.”—New York Times Book Review

From the Publisher

Galapagos takes the reader back one million years, to A.D. 1986. A simple vacation cruise suddenly becomes an evolutionary journey. Thanks to an apocalypse, a small group of survivors stranded on the Galapagos Islands are about to become the progenitors of a brave new, and totally different human race. Here, America's master satirist looks at our world and shows us all that is sadly, madly awry -- and all that is worth saving.

"Vonnegut is a postmodern Mark Twain... Galapagos is a madcap genealogical adventure." -- The New York Times Book Review

. "Beautiful.... Provocative, arresting reading." -- USA Today --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

"Vonnegut is a postmodern Mark Twain... Galapagos is a madcap genealogical adventure." -- The New York Times Book Review

"Beautiful.... Provocative, arresting reading." -- USA Today --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Kurt Vonnegut’s black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959 and established him as “a true artist” (The New York Times) with Cat’s Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, “one of the best living American writers.” Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One


The Thing Was:

One million years ago, back in 1986 A.D., Guayaquil was the chief seaport of the little South American democracy of Ecuador, whose capital was Quito, high in the Andes Mountains. Guayaquil was two degrees south of the equator, the imaginary bellyband of the planet after which the country itself was named. It was always very hot there, and humid, too, for the city was built in the doldrums--on a springy marsh through which the mingled waters of several rivers draining the mountains flowed.

This seaport was several kilometers from the open sea. Rafts of vegetable matter often clogged the soupy waters, engulfing pilings and anchor lines.

. . .

Human beings had much bigger brains back then than they do today, and so they could be beguiled by mysteries. One such mystery in 1986 was how so many creatures which could not swim great distances had reached the Galápagos Islands, an archipelago of volcanic peaks due west of Guayaquil--separated from the mainland by one thousand kilometers of very deep water, very cold water fresh from the Antarctic. When human beings discovered those islands, there were already geckos and iguanas and rice rats and lava lizards and spiders and ants and beetles and grasshoppers and mites and ticks in residence, not to mention enormous land tortoises.

What form of transportation had they used?

Many people were able to satisfy their big brains with this answer: They came on natural rafts.

. . .

Other people argued that such rafts became waterlogged and rotted to pieces so quickly that nobody had ever seen one out of sight of land, and that the current between the islands and the mainland would carry any such rustic vessel northward rather than westward.

Or they asserted that all those landlubberly creatures had walked dry-shod across a natural bridge or had swum short distances between stepping-stones, and that one such formation or another had since disappeared beneath the waves. But scientists using their big brains and cunning instruments had by 1986 made maps of the ocean floor. There wasn't a trace, they said, of an intervening land mass of any kind.

. . .

Other people back in that era of big brains and fancy thinking asserted that the islands had once been part of the mainland, and had been split off by some stupendous catastrophe.

But the islands didn't look as though they had been split off from anything. They were clearly young volcanoes, which had been vomited up right where they were. Many of them were such newborns out there that they could be expected to blow again at any time. Back in 1986, they hadn't even sprouted much coral yet, and so were without blue lagoons and white beaches, amenities many human beings used to regard as foretastes of an ideal afterlife.

A million years later, they do possess white beaches and blue lagoons. But when this story begins, they were still ugly humps and domes and cones and spires of lava, brittle and abrasive, whose cracks and pits and bowls and valleys brimmed over not with rich topsoil of sweet water, but with the finest, driest volcanic ash.

. . .

Another theory back then was that God Almighty had created all those creatures where the explorers found them, so they had had no need for transportation.

. . .

Another theory was that they had been shooed ashore there two by two--down the gangplank of Noah's ark.

If there really was a Noah's ark, and there may have been--I might entitle my story "A Second Noah's Ark."

Chapter Two



There was no mystery a million years ago as to how a thirty-five-year-old American male named James Wait, who could not swim a stroke, intended to get from the South American continent to the Galápagos Islands. He certainly wasn't going to squat on a natural raft of vegetable matter and hope for the best. He had just bought a ticket at his hotel in downtown Guayaquil for a two-week cruise on what was to be the maiden voyage of a new passenger ship called the Bahía de Darwin, Spanish for "Darwin Bay." This first Galápagos trip for the ship, which flew the Ecuadorian flag, had been publicized and advertised all over the world during the past year as "the Nature Cruise of the Century."

Wait was traveling alone. He was prematurely bald and he was pudgy, and his color was bad, like the curst on a pie in a cheap cafeteria, and he was bespectacled, so that he might plausibly claim to be in his fifties, in case he saw some advantage in making such a claim. He wished to seem harmless and shy.

He was the only customer now in the cocktail lounge of the Hotel El Dorado, on the broad Calle Diez de Agosto, where he had taken a room. And the bartender, a twenty-year-old descendant of proud Inca noblemen, named Jesús Ortiz, got the feeling that this drab and friendless man, who claimed to be a Canadian, had had his spirit broken by some terrible injustice or tragedy. Wait wanted everybody who saw him to feel that way.

Jesús Ortiz, who is one of the nicest people in this story of mine, pitied rather than scorned this lonesome tourist. He found it sad, as Wait had hoped he would, that Wait had just spent a lot of money in the hotel boutique--on a straw hat and rope sandals and yellow shorts and a blue-and-white-and-purple cotton shirt, which he was wearing now. Wait had had considerable dignity, Ortiz thought, when he had arrived from the airport in a business suit. But now, at great expense, he had turned himself into a clown, a caricature of a North American tourist in the tropics.

The price tag was still stapled to the hem of Wait's crackling new shirt, and Ortiz, very politely and in good English, told him so.

"Oh?" said Wait. He knew the tag was there, and he wanted it to remain there. But he went through a charade of self-mocking embarrassment, and seemed about to pluck off the tag. But then, as though overwhelmed by some sorrow he was trying to flee from, he appeared to forget all about it.

. . .

Wait was a fisherman, and the price tag was his bait, a way of encouraging strangers to speak to him, to say in one way or another what Ortiz had said: "Excuse me, Senor, but I can't help noticing--"

Wait was registered at the hotel under the name on his bogus Canadian passport, which was Willard Flemming. He was a supremely successful swindler.

Ortiz himself was in no danger from him, but an unescorted woman who looked as though she had a little money, and who was without a husband and past childbearing, surely would have been. Wait had so far courted and married seventeen such persons--and then cleaned out their jewelry boxes and safe-deposit boxes and bank accounts, and disappeared.

He was so successful at what he did that he had become a millionaire, with interest-bearing savings accounts under various aliases in banks all over North America, and he had never been arrested for anything. For all he knew, nobody was even trying to catch him. As far as the police were concerned, he reasoned, he was one of seventeen faithless husbands, each with a different name, instead of a single habitual criminal whose real name was James Wait.

. . .

It is hard to believe nowadays that people could ever have been as brilliantly duplicitous as James Wait--until I remind myself that just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilograms! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn't imagine and execute.

So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogram brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?

A second query: What source was there back then, save for our overelaborate nervous circuitry, for the evils we were seeing or hearing about simply everywhere?

My answer: There was no other source. This was a very innocent planet, except for those great big brains.

Chapter Three


The Hotel El Dorado was a brand-new, five-story tourist accommodation--built of unadorned cement block. It had the proportions and mood of a glass-front bookcase, high and wide and shallow. Each bedroom had a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass looking westward--toward the waterfront for deep-draft vessels dredged in the delta three kilometers away.

In the past, that waterfront had teemed with commerce, and ships from all over the planet had delivered meat and grain and vegetables and fruit and vehicles and clothing and machinery and household appliances, and so on, and carried away, in fair exchange, Ecuadorian coffee and cocoa and sugar and petroleum and gold, and Indian arts and crafts, including "Panama" hats, which had always come from Ecuador and not from Panama.

But there were only two ships out there now, as James Wait sat in the bar, nursing a rum and Coca-Cola. He was not a drinker, actually, since he lived by his wits, and could not afford to have the delicate switches of the big computer in his skull short-circuited by alcohol. His drink was a theatrical prop--like the price tab on his ridiculous shirt.

He was in no position to judge whether the state of affairs at the waterfront was normal or not. Until two days before, he had never even heard of Guayaquil, and this was the first time in his life he had ever been below the equator. As far as he was concerned, the El Dorado was no different from all the other characterless hostelries he had used as hideouts in the past--in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in San Ignacio, Mexico, in Watervliet, New York, and on and on.

He had picked the name of the city where he was now from an arrivals-and-departures board at Kennedy International Airport in New York City. He had just pauperized and deserted his seventeenth wife--a seventy-year-old widow in Skokie, Illinois, right outside Chicago. Guayaquil sounded to him like the last place she would ever think of looking for him.

...
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