Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut, Kurt. (1963, 2010). Cat’s Cradle. Dial Press Trade Paperbacks; New York.

This novel is not exactly ‘light summer reading’, but if you want to delve into a story that is equal parts satire, analysis, and analogy, then you have come to the right place. The tale will force you to think, and perhaps at times shock you, but either way you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

 

The narrator calls himself John, and the plot revolves around his investigation of the weapons that people use against each other in times of war. Science, technology, and religion are all brought to the fore as narrator John researches what Americans were doing on the day Hiroshima was bombed – an interest which draws him into the orbit of Felix Hoenikker, a physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb (Wikipedia article). Felix Hoenikker’s character is thought to be based on Irving Langmuir, a chemist that Kurt Vonnegut knew distantly through their joint involvement with the General Electric research company (Wikipedia article).

As the plot of the novel progresses, John discovers ice-nine (a material that can cause the solidification of water) and ends up on the incredibly poor, fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, which is ruled by a violent dictator. John meets a whole cast of incredible and often bizarre characters on this island. He also encounters the religion of Bokononism, which is based around ‘harmless untruths’ (Wikipedia article). From this religion springs many of the critiques that Vonnegut sought to present  – you cam pull a well-spring of sub-texts and hyper-analyzes from this novel (Wharton, 2003).

I am simply astounded at the humour Kurt packs into his writing, when his own personal life was so tragic. As a young man, his mother committed suicide on Mother’s Day in 1944; he survived as a prisoner of war; his sister Alice died of cancer within hours of her husband’s death in a train crash (Kurt Vonnegut & Origami Express LLC, 2014). It is perhaps because of this tragedy that Kurt struggled to understand the vagaries of humanity, the universe, and absurd everyday events in his writing (Kurt Vonnegut & Origami Express LLC, 2014). You can see many of the thought-provoking quotes in this novel here. Every time I read them, I laugh and think in equal measures – for example:

“I smiled at one of the guards. He did not smile back. There was nothing funny about national security, nothing at all” (Vonnegut, pg. 16).

With short, jaunty chapters that are jam-packed with heavy concepts, this is an utterly intriguing and captivating read. Highly recommended!

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