The title of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five had always been more prominent than the author himself. The book is on so many lists that it becomes difficult to avoid, popping up in the unlikeliest of places. And because of this, his name slowly started the process of gaining a place in my list of must-read authors. But it is not this one that I decided I’d start my Vonnegut journey on. I picked A Man Without a Country instead.
I was still a little apprehensive of Vonnegut, though. The reason is: a few months ago, I read an article online about some of the most sexist things ‘famous’ men have ever said. And I was shocked to find Kurt Vonnegut’s name featured here. However, I decided that having an opinion AFTER reading his work would (obviously) be better than having one influenced by third parties.
I had thought when I bought this book that A Man Without a Country is the story of a man grappling with an identity crisis. Thanks to the name on the cover, I bought it without even reading the blurb. So imagine my surprise when I started reading A Man Without a Country and found that it is nonfiction – a collection of essays that Vonnegut wrote. The most obvious hint was in the tagline (which I hadn’t read either): A Memoir of Life in George W. Bush’s America.
And despite this being nonfiction (I’m a hardcore fiction fan), A Man Without a Country appealed to me.
A Man Without a Country is Vonnegut’s last work before his death in 2007. Published in 2005, the book narrates Vonnegut’s frustration with the human race as well as how Bush steamrolled progress and encouraged senseless actions at the time. Putting things in perspective and comparing then and now, I have a feeling there’s not much difference here. And I kept talking to Vonnegut through the pages, saying things like, “I wish you were alive now to see what’s happening in your country.”
Here’s a little example: “He is nothing but a moron puppet leading us all over the precipice.” You could replace ‘He’ with either of two surnames and the sentence would still make sense.
Kurt Vonnegut, as seen in his writing in A Man Without a Country is pissed off at the state of affairs in America. [Why I say is? Refer previous paragraph.] After reading this book, there is so much that turns upside down. My view of Kurt Vonnegut was of a serious, topical writer who brings intensity to his narrative. But reading this, his essays, proves to me that he knows how to put a point across through humor. And that’s an admirable thing to do.
However, early on in the narrative, his reputation preceded him in weirdness.
Like his ideas about which people are twerps. It’s like Hollywood superheroes – they say they are here to save the world, and by world, they mean America. Everyone else is a twerp.
Like a few quotes here and there that raised my hackles. As if to say “Who do you think you are?” But then again, once my mind processed it, I preferred to take these as sarcasm. For example: “I can’t stand primitive people – they’re so stupid,” or “Primitive people deserve to lose with their lousy stories. They really are backward.”
But apart from these, there is nothing overly damning against Vonnegut as I had imagined, proving yet again how preconceived notions can be hell. And whatever I encountered, I term it sarcasm. Fluently so.
A Man Without a Country, as I mentioned before, is the first Kurt Vonnegut book I’m reading and the last he wrote. And maybe because of this, I find his writing modern. If he was around during WWII, I would have thought that it would reflect in his style. Or maybe I am just typecasting and stereotyping him unfairly. Again, preconceived notions.
I must say, however, that Vonnegut has a rather in-your-face style of writing. Love it or hate it – there’s no in-between. It talks to you, the reader, in ways that you probably wouldn’t have imagined. The narrative flows beautifully, even for a nonfiction book. There is nothing that doesn’t make it an engaging read.
In A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut speaks the indigestible truth, one that not many would have the nerve to say, much less work on. He uses humor to vent and even in his frustrated ranting, he is absolutely hilarious. Maybe because he knows the importance of knowing when we’re happy. Acknowledging our joy is more important than knowing our sorrow. I know because he says so himself in the book.
I love A Man Without a Country because it is unapologetically frank and sarcastic in many places. You’ll have to read the entire book to understand. At least that’s what I take the subtly harsh jibes as. Perhaps to save myself, perhaps to save the book. Because I believe that it’s not worth upholding the five percent of disagreement and hate the remaining ninety-five percent of pure genius.
All in all, I love A Man Without a Country and would suggest it to someone who wants some sarcastic, humorous nonfiction. I can safely say that the only other nonfiction book I’ve loved so far is Rujuta Diwekar’s Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight.
Here’s a quote that I encountered in the latter part of A Man Without a Country that almost closed the deal for me with its truth.
A book is an arrangement of twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten numerals, and about eight punctuation marks, and people can cast their eyes over these and envision the eruption of Mount Vesuvius or the Battle of Waterloo.
Rating: 4/5 stars
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