21 May 2009

32. Mother Night

Mother Night - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

This book was first published in 1961. I had heard of the author, but never this title. I picked it up because of the author's name. I bought it because the cover (shown above) looked provocative. I got interested in reading it because of a blurb from the Chicago Tribune. It said "Vonnegut makes fun of sex, to be sure, and governments, of course, and materialism, absolutely!-and war, and peace, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Communists and the Nazis, and motherhood and sin." That blurb made me pick this one out of the stack as my next read. I am glad it was there.

This novel is about an American man who is living in Germany prior to and during WWII. He marries a German woman. He is a successful writer of plays. When WW II breaks out he becomes a Nazi propagandist over the radio while working as an American agent.

The book is written like the main character is the one doing the writing. He is writing his memoirs while sitting in an Israeli jail awaiting a war crimes trial many years after the war. The book is written in a way that makes it appear to be fact, a recollection of actual historical events from a real man's past. I really liked that. It gave the story a bit of a kick for me. Many of the events and people in the book are real (Goebels, Eichman, Hitler, etc) as were the events. Using this technique blurred the lines between what was real and what was fictional.
(I looked it up. It is called metafiction.)

The book was an excellent read. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the characters. The plot twisted in ways I did not expect. This happened probably four or five times in the book. Usually I am pretty good at having a general idea of where the story will go next. Vonnegut screwed that all up for me. He took me in directions I did not expect on many occasions. Maybe that is why I liked this book so much.

The subject matter can be dark at times. Definitely not politically correct (Nazis never were). Anti-semitism, racism, sexism, and more. They all run rampant throughout this book. If that stuff offends easily then this book is probably not one you will enjoy. I am not easily offended. In fact, I was never offended. That part of history was real. Why not write about it? It is what it is.

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."
This is the moral of the story, or one of them, as stated by the author in the introduction. I did not understand what he meant until reading the book. Howard W. Campbell, the protagonist, was an American, was working as a talk radio broadcaster within Germany and spewed Nazi propaganda to motivate the Germans. He was actually an American spy sending messages to America within the propaganda. The problem with that is that the CIA (or whoever recruited him) never could admit he was their agent...so the world only knew Howard W. Campbell as the Nazi propagandist. They never knew he was actually doing that work FOR the Allies. They never knew he was helping America by passing information over the airwaves. They never knew Howard W. Campbell... they only knew what he was pretending to be...and therefore; that is exactly what he was.

I really liked this book. For the third time in a row, I must rate this one as recommended.

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