I’m traveling for the next two weeks, so no posts from me for a bit. I’ll see what I can do to turn up some Bosnian wisdom, though!
“If anyone here should wind up on a gurney in a lethal-injection facility…here is what your last words should be: ‘This will certainly teach me a lesson.’”
In 1945, Dresden was fire-bombed. The catastrophic attack destroyed essentially the entire (historical) city center, and probably around 25,000 people. It has been controversial ever since, with critics arguing it had little to no military value and was purely attempt to strike terror into the Germans, while defenders suggest it was important to destroying a major rail and communication center. Enough to make anyone anti-war for life.
Vonnegut was there. He was a prisoner of war in the city, surviving because he was locked underground, and was later put to work exhuming corpses from the wreckage. It was an experience that permanently shaped him, including his best-known book, Slaughterhouse-Five. His description of his experience in Armageddon in Retrospect is a striking centerpiece to the book.
Armageddon in Retrospect is a posthumous collection of Vonnegut’s work, with a forward by his son. I’m a big Vonnegut fan, and the twelve pieces within cover a wide range: a letter home after WW2, short stories about trapping a unicorn or making cookbooks as a prisoner of war, even a commencement speech he was due to deliver. They are not, however, what one would call cheerful, and many of them strike a fairly consistent tone.
For that reason, I think I liked it a little less than Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five: the cutting ambiguity and subtlety that Vonnegut is so good at, where you read a light story that gradually evolves deeper layers, isn’t as present. Still good and still well written (his son, in the introduction, suggests Vonnegut somehow had an ‘extra gear’ when it came to language, recalling how his father used to help him with his Latin homework, without being able to speak Latin), but not his best.