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A Man Without a Country Hardcover – Sep 6 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
In his first book since 1999, it's just like old times as Vonnegut (now 82) makes with the deeply black humor in this collection of articles written over the last five years, many from the alternative magazine In These Times. But the pessimistic wisecracks may be wearing thin; the conversational tone of the pieces is like Garrison Keillor with a savage undercurrent. Still, the schtick works fine most of the time, underscored by hand-lettered aphorisms between chapters. Some essays suffer from authorial self-indulgence, however, like taking a dull story about mailing a manuscript and stretching it to interminable lengths. Vonnegut reserves special bile for the "psychopathic personalities" (i.e., "smart, personable people who have no consciences") in the Bush administration, which he accuses of invading Iraq so America can score more of the oil to which we have become addicted. People, he says, are just "chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power." Of course, that's exactly the sort of misanthropy hardcore Vonnegut fans will lap up—the online versions of these pieces are already described as the most popular Web pages in the history of In These Times. (Sept.)
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'Part memoir, part rant and part joke, Vonnegut's latest book is as elusive as it is beguiling. Throughout this slim volume, the author walks a fine line between despair over our deteriorating world and a consummate entertainer's urge to amuse' Sunday Times 'Vonnegut's A Man without a Country is pure late Twain, darkly funny, never less than enraged at corruption and greed, and overflowing with compassion for the powerless. We've never needed him more' Russell Banks 'If Vonnegut isn't the enduring Good Humor man, who is?' John Irving, The Times 'This enjoyable volume of reflections and anecdotes reminds us what is unique about the author of those startlingly good American novels Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions ... Kurt Vonnegut is one of the greatest writers of the past 50 years' Daily Telegraph --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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Certainly Vonnegut himself is well aware of these vagaries of fame and influence.
But let me heartily proclaim the obvious--that we truly should declare Mr. V.'s birthday a new national holiday (strapping it firmly to the one, for some, it already is on 11/11); schoolchildren should compete in Vonnegut Declamation Contests, vying to repeat from memory the longest and most salient passages from his works; we should have Vonnegut Festivals, Seminars, Television sitcoms, toothpaste, bottled water--even a Vonnegut Party in national, state, and local elections, which might well take the place of the corrupt and anemic Democrats.
Alas, it seems we are repeating the past as the Old Reliables (Studs Terkel, John Leonard, and company) trot out their appropriate praises; some teevee interviews are conducted; the bored Harvard and Yale crowds clap politely; the schoolchildren continue with their videogaming and baby-producing; and New Orleans is reduced to a new Love Canal, Iraq civil-wars, the wealthy bolt their gated enclaves, and the rest of us, debt-torn and grief-fatigued, stew in our own juices.
Look: if you haven't done so recently, go back and reread (or first-read) SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, CAT'S CRADLE, HOCUS-POCUS, GALAPAGOS, GOD BLESS YOU MR. ROSEWATER, and MOTHER NIGHT (among others: but start with these).
Think about what the man is saying. Look around you. Maybe turn off your television for a moment of silence.
Here is the real deal, folks.
This is our guy. Ignore him at your peril.
Let's get those "Sermon on the Mount" plaques up in every corporate lobby.
Let's get tap-dancing. There's not much time left for a party.
Yes, Vonnegut draws connections between Bush and Hitler-they both called themselves Christians despite what many "liberal" documentaries suggest about Hitler being a pagan. But being opposed to Bush doesn't make Kurt a Democrat. Read Kurt's words, HE'S A HUMANIST. For those of you that are anti-humanists, there are plenty of sentences to be taken out of context to exploit towards your own divisive agendas. Vonnegut reminds us of a line by Shakespeare: "The Devil will quote scripture for his purpose."
When did respecting each other become politically divisive? I've often wondered why respecting science is politically divisive. Kurt sheds some light on these topics among others.
Look, if you think the world is all hunky-dory, this won't be your cup of tea. Or, if you dug Vonnegut's earlier work solely for his humor, you may be disappointed with this read. Vonnegut grapples with his grasp on turning out humor, about how other humorists loose their humor as they age. Vonnegut still has his humor, but he is pissed off--many readers haven't known when he has been joking and when he has been serious. For the remedial readers he annotates his jokes by saying, "I'm kidding."
Just because Kurt loves humans, he isn't beyond shaking his finger at those who preach love as they drop bombs and enslave little brown folks. If you object to this assessment of our current world order, and you have read the books Vonnegut suggests every non-twerp has read, then, I'm open to reading your objections to the content of Kurt's assertions. Seriously, do you consume much non-American media?
Fellow humanists, it's time to take these ideas seriously. Enough of the politicians spewing their accusations at the other party. Kurt would prefer politicians stop partying and work on real peaceful, humanitarian efforts, like providing drinkable water.
Kurt begins his penultimate book: "There is no reason good can't triumph over evil, if only angels will get organized along the lines of the mafia."
Here's to Bokonon. * Kurt, I look forward to reading your next novel. I hope you do find a way to write its ending.
At the same time, I found myself (as I dazed in a tired stupor at the boob-tube) wondering why and how this overtly charismatic man, a potential American literary icon, had escaped my knowledge. As I thought more and more, I realized that whether I liked his writings or not, or whether or not I disagreed with him, I needed to read through some of his works -- a sort of "Obligation of the American Soul®" if you will.
And so, as a 23-year old recent college graduate, I ponied up the money and headed to the local Border's shop to pick up the latest (and supposedly final) of his books, A Man Without A Country. I'm not sorry I did.
Vonnegut employs a very readable, conversational style of writing, which lends a sort of friendly "Hey, here's what I think, you go mull it over while I do something else" attitude. While I don't find myself in complete agreeance with everything he says, I believe his general ideas provoke thought and consideration, and his experience and wisdom should not go unnoticed. Any man or woman who has lived to the ripe age of 82 should have some important points to make about life, and one who is as politically charged and sassy as Vonnegut makes several excellent arguments.
I'm not (at this point) familiar with his earlier works, and so I cannot say whether or not he's repeating himself or pulling the same old stunts. What I can say is that if you have a couple hours on hand, you should buy or borrow this book and take a peek through its pages.
A Man Without A Country is one of the greatest pieces of non-fiction I have ever read, and I do not enjoy non-fiction much. Kurt Vonnegut tackles a wide variety of subjects including politics, (he has a scathing portrayal of George Bush, which cracked me up) sex, literature, war, religion, and even writing, and he says it with such confidence and a lot of humor to boot. A Man Without A Country is a fantastic swan song from a great writer. The only gripe I have with this excellent piece is that it is far too short (I read it in less than an hour.)
I would give this book 4.5 stars, but I'm rating it a 5 to help try to bump the overall rating to a 4.5.
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