This is a really short, really funny and really thought-provoking novel, the best book by one of America's best authors. Vonnegut combines satire with science fiction to . This covers the narrator's introduction of himself, the basics of "Bokononism," and the letter that sets up the Honekker family.
First off, the narrator. This time, he's not actually Kurt Vonnegut like in Slaughterhouse V, but he's really similar to him. He has the same pessimistic attitude about human beings, focusing on the destruction we create (the atomic bomb in Japan this time). He also uses the phrase "Listen" and uses a Biblical allusion in the first chapter. This time, instead of Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt, it's the tale of the prophet Jonah. If you don't know the story, it's pretty simple: God selects Jonah to go preach in Nineveh, where the enemies of Jonah's people life. He wants Jonah to explain that if they don't repent and stop being evil, God will destroy them. But Jonah doesn't want to give them this chance for forgiveness; these people are his enemies, and he wants God to kill them now. So he runs away on a ship, but God sends terrible storms, and when Jonah jumps overboard he sends a whale to swallow him. After three days in its belly, Jonah apologizes to God and says he'lll deliver the message, so the whale vomits him up and he completes the mission reluctantly. Why do you think Vonnegut put this story at the beginning of a book about "the end of the world"?
I also like how this (Judeo-)Christian story leads into: "But I'm not a Christian anymore. I am a Bokononist now." The made-up religion of Bokononism is at the heart of this story, and it's pretty cool. It's kind of a hybrid of Zen and Tralfalmodorianism with God. Like Buddhists and Taoists, they think the "checkerboard" of boundaries and distinctions is false, and focus on the actual interconnectedness of things (I love that image of the "sinookas," the "tendrils of your life" which tangle with those of others). Like the Tralfalmadorians, they see things as pre-determined, as "machine" assemblages made of working parts, but God is bringing those assemblages together behind the scenes. Finally, there's the paradox of Bonokon tells us we can never understand, that all we have are "true lies" (and the quote at the beginning of the novel is "None of this is true"). What do you make of all this?
Lastly, we meet the family of the atomic bomb scientist Dr. Felix Hoenikker through a letter from his midget son Newt. The contrast between the way Newt and his older sister see their Father is really interesting and reminds me of some of the war themes in Slaughterhouse. What do you think of these people? And what do you think is the purpose of that title image, the Cat's Cradle the doctor makes for his ungrateful son?
Share your thoughts on these questions and anything else you want to talk about related to these chapters by clicking on the comments below. You can write as little or as much as you want. I'll post again on Tuesday, discussing up to Chapter 22 (ends with an interview), then we'll read a longer section and I'll post on Saturday to discuss it.
Hope to hear from you! - Biggs