Biographer: Vonnegut Still as Relevant as Ever

Author would have turned 100 Friday
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 11, 2022 12:19 PM CST
Vonnegut Remembered on What Would Have Been 100th Birthday
This 2016 photo shows an image of writer Kurt Vonnegut on display at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in Indianapolis.   (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz)

Kurt Vonnegut, whose satirical novels condemned the senselessness of war and hypocrisy of government, would have been 100 years old Friday, and biographer Charles J. Shields says his work is as relevant as ever. He says Vonnegut's questioning of the motives of institutions resonate with young people now as much as it did during the Vietnam War. "When I look at faces of young people holding up signs, protesting a Supreme Court decision, or calling for reform, espousing a cause, I see Vonnegutians," he tells NPR. Vonnegut, who died in 2007 at age 84, enlisted in the Army in 1943 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. As a prisoner of war in Germany, he survived the firebombing of Dresden, which he wrote about in 1969's Slaughterhouse-Five, widely considered to be among the greatest anti-war novels.

Shields, author of And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, says what's happening in Ukraine is much like World War II. "It's the same abject desire for conquest. It's the same overrunning of boundaries and ignoring people's wants, needs, and culture," he says. "War is fought at different times, but so often it involves the same issues, and so often has the same demeaning effect on humanity." Vonnegut grew up in Indianapolis, and writers, musicians, and fans have gathered in his hometown for Vonnegutfest, the Indianapolis Star reports.

Vonnegut was born in 1922 on what was then Armistice Day. "When I was a boy ... all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another," he wrote in 1973's Breakfast of Champions. "I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind." (Read more Kurt Vonnegut stories.)

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