Mike Recommends: Slaughterhouse 5

"When we saw a river, we had to stop so they could stand by it and think about it for a while. They had never seen water in that long and narrow, unsalted form before. The river was the Hudson. There were carp in there and we saw them. They were as big as atomic submarines."

Kurt Vonnegut was a genius. If you were a publisher reading the synopsis (if he ever did such a thing!) on Slaughterhouse 5 you would probably need to have a lie down for a while, whilst you wondered if you ever dared print such a thing. But back in 1969 it was, and drew interest at a time of ant-war protests in the US.

Vonnegut follows Billy Pilgrim as he stumbles towards the curtain of the Allied bombing of Dresden at the end of World War 2.

In-between Billy slips in and out of time travel and is kidnapped by an alien race called the Tralfamadorians who put him in a zoo. The aliens perceive all points in time at once:

"When a Tralfamodorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that person is just fine in plenty of other moments."

Billy also meets his favourite author Kilgore Trout.

"Are - you Kilgore Trout?"
"Yes." Trout supposed that Billy had some complaint about the way his newspapers were being delivered. He did not think of himself as a writer for the simple reason that the world had never allowed him to think of himself in this way.
"The - the writer?" said Billy.
"The what?"

Slaughterhouse works on a number of levels. (Let me be clear, the book should not work, the fact that it does is a testament to Vonnegut.) It is funny, moving and informative. It brings into perspective the level of suffering in a city which Vonnegut describes as having no military significance (it was untouched until the bombing at the end of the war). Vonnegut himself survived the bombing as a prisoner of war in Dresden.

Air attack on Tokyo by American bombers kills 83,793 people.
Atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima kills 71,370 people.
Conventional bombs dropped by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force on Dresden, kills 135,000 people.

What I like about the book is the way you are drawn into the thought gymnastics that go on in Vonnegut's mind. He is clever, witty and provides a view on life that is refreshing and allows you to look at the human condition from a perspective outside the normal polite form of thought demonstrated by the mass of media that surrounds us.

It's like discovering a donut sprinkled in brightly covered hundreds and thousands in a packet of cornflakes. Totally unexpected and a real treat at the wrong time of day. Disjointed from the normal patterns.

Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922 and studied biochemistry at Cornell University.
Visit vonnegut.com for more on Vonnegut and his work.
Visit Amazon to buy the book.
Read the first page.

In the book The Tralfamadorians teach Billy that a person only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past.
Tralfamadorians say about dead people, "So it goes."
Vonnegut died this April aged 84.

So it goes.

Next Month: A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon.

Photo Credits:
Books Picture: Cromacom
Vonnegut in plane: Peter Yang

Mike Recommends: A Thousand Splendid Suns

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.

A story of two women, Mariam and Laila who are brought together through tragedy in each of their lives, and must face the torment of Rasheed who marries them both.

Set in Afghanistan, the tale is threaded into the history of the country from the Russian occupation to the fall of the Taliban.

I love this book. An emotive force drives the narrative that is grim and gritty yet manages to hold hope always within the story, though the despair should crush it to dust in the fist Khaled wields.

The story arc is better than The Kite Runner, Khaled's first book. (Although that book is brilliant) Probably due to The Kite Runner being semi autobiographical with a plot twist at the end bolted on for fear of the story not standing on its own merit.

Khaled's strengths lie in his ability to make you care about his characters and his ability to immerse you in events with deft touches of his pen, rather than over doing the prose.
For example:

It hurts. It hurts to breathe. It hurts everywhere.
A glass of water. A pink pill.
Back to the darkness.

He also takes you, like in The Kite Runner, into a world normally only viewed through news broadcasts. The culture and devastation of Afghanistan are brought to life through the simple tale of these two ordinary women. And whilst Rasheed covers their eyes in the mesh of the burqa, Khaled opens our eyes to the hearts within Afghanistan that beat with the same rhythm in hope and tragedy as in us all.

My only slight criticisms are Khaled's use of adverbs where his writing is strong enough to hold up without their support, and I did loose connection with Mariam as a character for a while in the early bit of Part 3. He also succumbs to leaving the odd cliffhanger at the end of a chapter (chapter 16 for example) that might suit Dan Brown but seem out of place here.

So if you want a book that is beautiful, tragic and well written, read A Thousand Splendid Suns this summer.

Khaled Hosseini is involved with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
To help or learn more about UNHCR visit:

Click to go to Author Profile

Click to find out more about Khaled Hosseini & his books.

Click to read Amazon's interview with Khaled.

Click to read the first chapter.

Next month: Kurt Vonnegut's classic: SlaughterHouse 5.

The Heat of the Sun

The day the light comes on,
Is when we come together.
Tears sear the storm,
We embrace forever.

The day the light comes on,
Is when we feel the kiss of consummation.
The joy connected.
Let emotion erupt as intended.

The day the light comes on,
Is when rewards are won.
A burning desire,
The heat of the sun.

Mike French August 07

Photo Credit: EiSsa