Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, a cosmic, comic novelist, dies at 84


NEW YORK --Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Cat's Cradle" and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died Wednesday night in Manhattan. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.

The defining moment of Vonnegut's life was the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied forces in 1945, an event he witnessed firsthand as a young prisoner of war. Thousands of civilians were killed in the raids, many of them burned to death or asphyxiated. "The firebombing of Dresden," Vonnegut wrote, "was a work of art." It was, he added, "a tower of smoke and flame to commemorate the rage and heartbreak of so many who had had their lives warped or ruined by the indescribable greed and vanity and cruelty of Germany."
His experience in Dresden was the basis of "Slaughterhouse-Five," which was published in 1969 against the backdrop of war in Vietnam, racial unrest and cultural and social upheaval. The novel, wrote the critic Jerome Klinkowitz, "so perfectly caught America's transformative mood that its story and structure became best-selling metaphors for the new age."
To Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," summed up his philosophy:
"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- `God damn it, you've got to be kind."'


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