Over the past four decades readers have been able to get to know Kurt Vonnegut through his books. The protagonists in his stories have always represented a big part of his personality, and his alter-ego, Kilgore Trout, has been a recurring character throughout the years.
But now, as Vonnegut crosses the threshold into his 80s, he gives us his memoirs of sorts, with five years of journaling being compiled into his latest book, “A Man Without a Country.”
Vonnegut shares with readers his thoughts on life, growing old, religion, politics, the state of mankind and the condition of planet Earth.
Vonnegut is still able to write with childlike playfulness, a piercing eye into our world, and his musings are just as fresh and funny as ever.
Vonnegut lays out his plan to file a billion dollar lawsuit against the manufacturers of Pall Mall cigarettes, who have promised to kill him for years.
“I keep hoping the things will kill me,” Vonnegut writes. “A fire at one end and a fool at the other…But I am now 82. Thanks a lot, you dirty rats.”
Even though Vonnegut has become thoroughly disillusioned with the state of America, he still has flares of optimism. Even if our government, media and religious and charitable institutions become hopelessly corrupt and greedy, Vonnegut is confident that “the music will still be wonderful.”
He goes on and declares he wants his epitaph to read “The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.”
Throughout this book readers are told of Vonnegut’s family history, his affinity for Socialist and fellow Hoosier Eugene Debs, his admiration of Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. Vonnegut warns readers that “It is almost always a mistake to mention Abraham Lincoln. He almost always steals the show.”
The most recurring subject in “A Man Without a Country,” however, is Vonnegut’s fear that humans have squandered all of the Earth’s resources, and that the planet is irrevocably doomed. In Vonnegut’s opinion, we humans are hopelessly addicted to fossil fuels and have “all but destroyed this once salubrious planet as a life-support system.”
Even though Vonnegut has little hope for the world our grandchildren will inherit, and he fears that he, like Mark Twain before him, is no longer able to use humor as a defense against the downfalls of life, there are still sparks of hope and humor in his latest book. He implores us to enjoy the simple pleasures that come our way.
“A Man Without a Country” is less a book and more of a letter from one fragile human to the rest of us. Vonnegut doesn’t pretend to have answers to life’s problems, but he offers some guidance as we claw our way through this peculiar experience called life.
As he tells us, “All I really wanted to to was give people the relief of laughing. Humor can be a relief, like an aspirin tablet. If a hundred years from now people are still laughing, I’d certainly be pleased.”
As long as we have his books handy, we will certainly still be able to enjoy the gift of laughter.