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4.0 out of 5 stars An odd ending,
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."
The moral of the story is stated in the introduction, I suppose for people that might ask themselves what happened. The most shocking part is the ending, which happened somewhat unexpectedly that I didn't know what I was supposed to think. Vonnegut manages to weave a tale full of comical characters, not that they seemed unrealistic. I noticed the beginning of the story was more humorous, and by the end of the story, it become quite serious.
In Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, we follow Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American who moved to Germany, and became a famous playwright and a Nazi propagandist. In the beginning, we see Howard inside an Israeli prison, waiting for his trial. He is told to write his story, because people think that they will discover something from it. Thus, Howard commences to write his memoirs.
We follow Howard through his married life with Helga, how he transmitted secret codes during the war as a secret agent for America that not even he knew of, and when he started living in New York.
How does Howard, without his wife, live? If he isn't considered a spy for America, what is he considered?
I enjoyed greatly how Howard, the playwright, claimed that as a writer, he should've known when was a good time to end his story, his life.
5.0 out of 5 stars Unconvential in it's conventionality,
This is my third endeavor through the works of Kurt Vonnegut and it seems that 'Mother Night' plays out as a more conventional novel in terms of structure and theme. It's sheer brilliance is evident straight from the introduction; where Vonnegut asks that we be good at what we pretend to be, because that's who we will become. He also sets up the dark humor presented in the book by inplicating a second moral, simply stated: "When you're dead you're dead." 'Mother Night' follows the narrative of Howard Campbell, war criminal, throughout his years following the time when he was an agent of the United States in Germany during WWII. Vonnegut, as commonplace in most of his novels, satirizes war and it's absurdity, love, race, and the meaning that we attribute to our lives in a meaningless world where there is essentially no escape. However, the book, unlike typical Vonnegut, focuses on one primary theme; that of the significance of truth. For the characters in 'Mother Night' becoming spies has left them with no country and no hope. What essentially keeps them (among them Campbell) is curiousity. However, as will be revealed during the course of the novel, even this will be crushed as lies become lies and then become truths, and Campbell will remain frozen in his tracks, a victim of the country that he helped and separated from his nation of two, the only nation that had any significance.
A well-written narrative, funny and thought provoking. We laugh, but only a bit tentatively, as we watch the 'truth' unfold and wonder if it was worth knowing at all.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel about serving evil too openly and good too secretly,
To the best of my knowledge, there really is no other writer quite like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Mother Night appears to be a rather straightforward, albeit quirky, novel at first glance, but as one delves down into the heart of Vonnegut's prose one finds grounds for contemplation of some of life's most serious issues. This novel is the first-hand account of Howard Campbell, Jr., a most remarkable character. Campbell is an American-born citizen who moved to Germany as a child and became the English-speaking radio mouthpiece for Nazi Germany during World War II. In the fifteen years since the end of the war, he has been living an almost invisible life in a New York City attic apartment. He misses his German wife Helga who died in the war, sometimes thinks about his pre-war life as a successful writer of plays and poems, and perhaps just waits for history to find him once again. As we begin the novel, he has been found and is writing this account from a jail cell in Israel, awaiting trial for his crimes against humanity. While he is reviled by almost everyone on earth as an American Nazi traitor, the truth is that he was actually an agent working for the American government during the war; this is a truth he cannot prove, though. Thus, in this 1961 novel, the hero is ostensibly a Nazi war criminal.
The primary moral of Mother Night, Vonnegut tells us in his introduction, is that "we are what we pretend to be" and should thus be pretty darned careful about what we are pretending to be (a secondary moral being the less enlightening statement "when you're dead, you're dead"). In the eyes of the entire world, Campbell is exactly what he pretended to be during the war, a traitorous Nazi purveyor of propaganda who mocked and demoralized allied troops as well as regular citizens. Internally, Campbell hardly knows what he is anymore; he claims no country, no political values, wanting only to live in a "nation of two" with his beloved wife Helga once again. A series of significant events forces Campbell out of the cocoon of his past fifteen years, and his thoughts and actions along the way provide big juicy morsels of food for thought: taking personal responsibility for one's actions, the harsh truths of war and peace, the sometimes vast differences between truth and fact, individual redemption before self and society, finding direction and a purpose in a world gone mad, etc. Vonnegut's scythe-like dark humor cuts deeper than mere satire, aiming directly at some of the darker sections of the human heart, areas which most individuals too often ignore or refuse to acknowledge. The gallows humor can be quite funny on the surface, but it is in actuality a scalpel which Vonnegut wields to open up the heart and soul of the reader for self-examination. Mother's Night, the title of which is taken from Goethe's Faust, is a relatively short but very powerful novel.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Semi-Departure for Vonnegut,
Mother Night is a fantastic book from Vonnegut, one that read with the ease and contagiousness expected from Vonnegut. How the story was told was somewhat of a departure for Vonnegut, whose trajectories are often nonlinear, usually bouncing around from planet to planet or dimension to dimension or what have you.
Mother Night is based on earth in a reality most of us live. In this reality often comes a struggle of doing what's right without getting noticed vs. doing what everyone else is doing with getting noticed. Our main character Howard W. Campbell Jr. is a beneficiary of reality's odd struggle. He aims to do the right thing, but in order to do it, he must do what everyone else is doing. And it's for this sheepish following in which he gets noticed.
Through Campbell, Vonnegut crafts a great questioning balance between the old moral code of right and wrong - can right overwrite wrong or do wrongs always precede right?
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Book,
Vonnegut starts out this book with a warning : "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." This story follows the life of an American playwright, Howard W. Campbell Jr., who happens to live in Germany during the Nazi regime. He is confronted by the Americans to work as a spy, sending secret messages through a radio broadcast. He agrees to this but at the same time his broadcasts are filled with propaganda, all in favor of Hitler and his actions. True to Vonnegut's style, the plot gets more and more twisted as the story goes on, ending with Campbell in an Israeli prison. This was a wonderfully well written novel with action and intrigue that made it hard to put down! Each time I finish one of Vonnegut's novels, I find myself longing to head back to the library to find another one.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Vonneguts better,
I just finished re-reading this book, and it was even better the second time around. This book is mostly about plot and morales, and less about charcters, although our main charcter is quite interesting. Jaded by the war, he has nothing to do with the rest of his life but hide. I dont want to give away any plot points, but the moral of the story is clear and brilliant "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be" But towards the end of the book, as Campbell is giving to the man who hate him, he says "Where's evil? Its the large part of very man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side". Thats why i read Vonnegut.
5.0 out of 5 stars valor,
I once heard this wonderful little quote:
"Valor is to do unwitnessed what we would like to do in front of the whole world."
I think this quote applies very aptly to the main character of this book--he traded his wife, his career, and his sanity for a hidden role in a noble cause. At this point many (possibly including the author) would disagree with me. After all, was he not a Nazi? If Germany had won the war, would he not have continued to rant on in his propanganda-filled shows?
Unlikely. Considering how even Russia found out about his status as an American spy, I dare say that his secret would not have remained one for long in the mirror scenario.
The ultimate result of his choice would have been ignominious death no matter what the outcome of the war.
Finally, what about "you could never have served the enemy as well as you served us?" The veracity of that statement is moot to debate because we are not given exact information on the nature of messages he sent. Even if the statement *was* true, the fault would lie with his recruitor and FDR, not himself. The path of being a Nazi propagandist was paved by those two--Campbell could have easily been a neutral playwright through the war, and emerged unscathed in either outcome of the war.
Thus, my contention is that Campbell was a true hero.
5.0 out of 5 stars fantistic,
kurt vonnegut is the man. this book is probably the most proper, and yes i mean proper. the tone, the characters and the plot are impeccable.
4.0 out of 5 stars Vonnegut in his chilling best...,
By A Customer
As an avid Vonnegut reader, I found "Mother Night" to be particularly frightening and questionable...but in a good way. He points out the weaknesses of a government while also causing us to question morality. Howard Campbell was a Nazi, but a United States Government spy. Unfortunately, his actions caused a chain of events, leading to the death of many Jew's and causing a rise in nationalism for Germany. Only one other person knew he was legitamate in his actions, the man who recruited him. His life in radio propaganda used secret codes in his script. But then how do we consider a man who helped in the war effort by becoming the enemy? It's like answering the question, "Is it alright to steal a loaf of bread if your family is starving?"
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Good...,
Although this is not Vonnegut's best, it's still worthy of being read more then once. A very dark novel that I felt to be a drama and not a comedy. It's theme "Be careful what you pretend to be" is brilliant. It's characters are very realistic. And I love Vonnegut's writing so much, I'm soon going to read this book again!
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Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut