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April 16, 2007

 

God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut

 

By Beth Pond

 

Kurt Vonnegut’s final novel was an autobiography of sorts.

 

After vowing to never write another book, Vonnegut came out of semi-retirement to produce A Man Without a Country, in which he vowed, “I am going to sue the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company, manufacturers of Pall Mall cigarettes, for a billion bucks! Starting when I was only twelve years old, I have never chain-smoked anything but unfiltered Pall Malls. And for many years now, right on the package, Brown and Williamson have promised to kill me.”

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Vonnegut died April 11, 2007 at the age of 84. His death was the result of brain injuries he sustained after a fall, not smoking.

In A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut reflected on being the youngest child in a German-American family.

Vonnegut, who studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Cornell, eventually followed in his ancestors’ footsteps and went into the arts. Born and raised in Indianapolis, Ind., he considered himself to be “one of America’s Great Lakes people.”

Vonnegut used his experiences as a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany during World War II to shape one of his most famous works, Slaughterhouse-Five.

Ruairi McLaughlin, 30, of Bristol, Conn., considers Vonnegut to be a very influential American author.

McLaughlin stumbled on to Slaughterhouse-Five several years ago because of his interest in WWII. The novel “provides a look at a historical incident (the Allied fire-bombing of Dresden) that most people are unfamiliar with,” McLaughlin said.

Slaughterhouse-Five is valuable and descriptive, according to McLaughlin.

Vonnegut graded his own books:

  • Cat's Cradle - A+
  • Slaughterhouse-Five - A+
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater - A
  • The Sirens of Titan - A
  • Mother Night - A
  • Jailbird - A
  • Player Piano - B
  • Welcome to the Monkey House - B-
  • Breakfast of Champions - C

“In a sense, it presented history in a personal perspective and it is definitely something that should be read by high school students,” said McLaughlin.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute freshman Thea Condaxis read Slaughterhouse-Five this semester after receiving the book as a birthday present.

“Everyone should have the experience of reading his books once in a lifetime,” said Condaxis, of Calais, Vermont.

Vonnegut is remembered for addressing issues in society as well as his blunt sense of humor. His novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is no exception.

Auralee Morin, an 18-year-old freshman at RPI, read God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater last year as a senior at Sherburne-Earlville Central School in Sherburne, N.Y.

Morin, who took an advanced English class, had to read one book a month that was outside the curriculum. Morin chose to read one of Vonnegut’s works, she said, because she “heard he was good.”

She likes “how he cuts at everything with sarcasm,” Morin said.

In response to the deeper meaning behind Vonnegut’s novels, Morin said his work is “so much more than historical fiction.”

Vonnegut will be remembered by his readers for his unique style of writing, which combined philosophy with literature and fact with fiction. An influential writer, Vonnegut’s work has been enjoyed by readers of many generations.


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