52 Books a Year: #9 - Mother Night

Posted by Brian Wed, 04 Nov 2009 18:18:11 GMT

Mother Night By Kurt Vonnegut


I read my first Kurt Vonnegut book in the summer of 2007. It was Breakfast of Champions and it left me completely dumbfounded. Very rarely do I put down a book at the end and just say “Wow”, but I had never read anything like that in my life. I read a few other of his novels that summer with similar results (Slaughterhouse-Five and The Sirens of Titan), but didn’t get back to the rest of his work until this spring when I read a few more. Mother Night was the first of those.

Mother Night didn’t wow me at first, but it is one of those books that sticks in your mind and gnaws at you for months. The introduction is fashioned to appear as though Vonnegut is simply introducing the legitimate memoirs of the lead character. It is superbly done and could easily be believed if you have no other experience with Vonnegut.

The novel follows Howard Campbell, an American playwright in Nazi Germany who is recruited as a spy by the U.S. War Department. From there the novel follows the consequences of him pretending to be a Nazi propagandist in WWII and beyond. His memoirs are supposedly written while he awaits trial for war crimes in an Israeli prison for his role in spreading anti-Semitic propaganda.

When I finished this book I thought it was good, but it has grown on me since to the point that I find it be superb. Campbell’s struggle to escape what he pretended to be (and what everybody else thought he was) is infiltrated by doubt about what he actually was. In the introduction Vonnegut lays out the moral of the book, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” His writing was dark and the morals often ambiguous, but here it is best heeded.


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