Book choice for October

Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut [suggested by Kathryn Berzins]

front cover

Now the most-nominated book (this is the third time it's been presented for selection and the second time by Kathryn, although this time she drafted Rebecca in to do the honours) we basically selected it because we knew it would keep coming back until we did.

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore.  In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Don't let the ease of reading fool you - Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel.  He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces.  One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..."  Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945.  Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority.  Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy - and humour.

The book is so famous it has its own Wikipedia page

Most readers interested in the fantastic in literature are familiar with Kurt Vonnegut, particularly for his uses of science fiction.  Many of his early short stories were wholly in the science fiction mode, and while its degree has varied, science fiction has never lost its place in his novels.  Vonnegut has typically used science fiction to characterize the world and the nature of existence as he experiences them.  His chaotic fictional universe abounds in wonder, coincidence, randomness and irrationality.  Science fiction helps lend form to the presentation of this world view without imposing a falsifying causality upon it.  In his vision, the fantastic offers perception into the quotidian, rather than escape from it.  Science fiction is also technically useful, he has said, in providing a distance perspective, "moving the camera out into space," as it were.  And unusually for this form, Vonnegut's science fiction is frequently comic, not just in the "black humor" mode with which he has been tagged so often, but in being simply funny.

All the above information is lifted from Kurt Vonnegut's website which then goes on to discuss his graphic art at great length.

 

Shortlisted for this month

This is the third and final month of our second experiment into new ways of choosing our monthly reads.  Rebecca-on-behalf-of-Kathryn also presented these two other books:

Rebecca

Rebecca

This riveting tale of fear, suspicion, and love opens as the unnamed narrator reminisces about her former home, the grand English estate, Manderley.  She had been young and shy, a lady's companion, when she met the wealthy recent widow, Maxim de Winter, fell in love with him, and married him in a matter of weeks.  They returned to his home, where she was immediately overwhelmed with the responsibilities of running the house and dealing with her forbidding housekeeper as well as the memory of Maxim's first wife, Rebecca.  She had been beautiful, sophisticated, and supremely confident, and the narrator felt lost and helpless in comparison.  Her new husband was strangely distant to her, until a horrible secret was revealed that would change their lives and the very existence of Manderley.

Daphne Du Maurier has crafted a wonderfully spooky story with remarkably little action, but a great deal of atmosphere and a steadily mounting feeling of impending doom.  The ravishing Rebecca is never seen, and yet she is the main character, dominating the story with her passions and cruelty.  Another main "character" is the great house itself, which is described in such fascinating detail that I felt as if I had walked its long hallways, descended its grand stairs, and had tea in the library.  The narrator is purposely kept anonymous to contrast her with the larger-than-life Rebecca, and Maxim is a seriously flawed but lovable man. [review from amazon.com]

About the Author

Daphne was born in 1907, grand-daughter of the brilliant artist and writer George du Maurier, daughter of Gerald, the most famous Actor Manager of his day, she came from a creative and successful family.

She began writing short stories in 1928, and in 1931 her first novel, 'The Loving Spirit' was published.  It received rave reviews and further books followed.  Then came her most famous three novels, 'Jamaica Inn', 'Frenchman's Creek' and Rebecca'.  Each novel being inspired by her love of Cornwall, where she lived and wrote.

Taken from Daphne du Maurier's website.

The Kiterunner

The Kiterunner

The Kite Runner of Khaled Hosseini's deeply moving fiction debut is an illiterate Afghan boy with an uncanny instinct for predicting exactly where a downed kite will land.  Growing up in the city of Kabul in the early 1970s, Hassan was narrator Amir's closest friend even though the loyal 11-year-old with "a face like a Chinese doll" was the son of Amir's father's servant and a member of Afghanistan's despised Hazara minority.  But in 1975, on the day of Kabul's annual kite-fighting tournament, something unspeakable happened between the two boys.

Narrated by Amir, a 40-year-old novelist living in California, The Kite Runner tells the gripping story of a boyhood friendship destroyed by jealousy, fear, and the kind of ruthless evil that transcends mere politics.  Running parallel to this personal narrative of loss and redemption is the story of modern Afghanistan and of Amir's equally guilt-ridden relationship with the war-torn city of his birth.  The first Afghan novel to be written in English, The Kite Runner begins in the final days of King Zahir Shah's 40-year reign and traces the country's fall from a secluded oasis to a tank-strewn battlefield controlled by the Russians and then the trigger-happy Taliban.  When Amir returns to Kabul to rescue Hassan's orphaned child, the personal and the political get tangled together in a plot that is as suspenseful as it is taut with feeling.

The son of an Afghan diplomat whose family received political asylum in the United States in 1980, Hosseini combines the unflinching realism of a war correspondent with the satisfying emotional pull of master storytellers such as Rohinton Mistry.  Like the kite that is its central image, the story line of this mesmerizing first novel occasionally dips and seems almost to dive to the ground.  But Hosseini ultimately keeps everything airborne until his heartrending conclusion in an American picnic park.

About the Author

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965.  His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History at a large high school in Kabul.  In 1976, the Afghan Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris.  They were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then Afghanistan had already witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet army.  The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States.  In September of 1980, Hosseini's family moved to San Jose, California.  Hosseini graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University where he earned a bachelor's degree in Biology in 1988.  The following year, he entered the University of California-San Diego's School of Medicine, where he earned a Medical Degree in 1993.  He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.  Hosseini was a practicing internist between 1996 and 2004.

While in medical practice, Hosseini began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, in March of 2001.  In 2003, The Kite Runner, was published and has since become an international bestseller, published in 38 countries.  In 2006 he was named a goodwill envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.  His second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns was published in May of 2007.  He lives in northern California.

Read more on Hosseini's website.

 

Previous Months' Book Choices

September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006