Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut - Book Review #120

Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Cat's Cradle
by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's Cradle, one of Vonnegut's most entertaining novels, is filled with scientists and G-men and even ordinary folks caught up in the game. These assorted characters chase each other around in search of the world's most important and dangerous substance, a new form of ice that freezes at room temperature. At one time, this novel could probably be found on the bookshelf of every college kid in America; it's still a fabulous read and a great place to start if you're young enough to have missed the first Vonnegut craze.

I’m definitely too young to be able to catch the first Vonnegut craze. Plus I didn’t grow up in the USA. So I have never read any Kurt Vonnegut’s books before. I heard a lot about him. We even had him in the Foreign Literature class, however I was fifteen and too busy with my social life to pay any attention to Vonnegut or his books. So here I’m, after reading him for the first time. And what did I think?

There are two major themes in Cat's Cradle, in my opinion: first, science and its great inventions in the hands of irresponsible idiots; and second, religion as panacea. In Vonnegut’s version the end of the world will not come because of the madman, pressing big red button. No, the end of the world will happen because of the careless people (in this case, children of one of the great scientists, who invented an atomic bomb) who came across the substance – Ice-nine – that they should never be allowed within a mile and in the pursuit of their own happiness they distribute the substance across the world. Angela gives it away to the American government in exchange of handsome husband. Newt gives it to the USSR for a fling with Russian ballet dancer. And Franklin gives it to "Papa" Monzano, a dictator of the small island country, for an exchange for position of Major General. So now the deadly dangerous substance is in the hands of two "Super power" countries and one madman.

Another theme is a religion – Bokononism. Vonnegut created one of the best, one of the most thought -through fictional religion that I have ever come through in the books. This is a religion that based on lies, create lies and not afraid to admit it. Bokononism presented in Cat's Cradle as panacea, as something that makes the life worthwhile, as lies that gives purpose of life.

In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in his cosmic loneliness.
And God said, "Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done." And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat, looked around, and spoke. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.
"Everything must have a purpose?" asked God.
"Certainly," said man.
"Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God.
And He went away.

Cat's Cradle was written in 1963 – in the middle of the Cold War and just after the Caribbean Crisis (The Cuban Missile Crisis). The thought about the end of the world was very hot at that moment. It is still relevant in our time. However as far as I understand, people are no longer as scared shitless as they used to be of the “end of the world” idea. Maybe, in our days, we don’t need black humor and satire to talk about the end of the world, but I’m sure that in 1963 this was only possible way to discuss it without putting people into deep depression for the rest of their lives.

While reading Cat's Cradle, I could definitely see Vonnegut’s genius and satire that I heard so much about. And I could definitely appreciate what themes he is bringing up and how he does it. Unfortunately, Cat's Cradle didn’t touch me deeply, so I would either fall utterly in love with it or hate it mercifully. Maybe the problem is that I’m not from the Cold War generation. Maybe I’m stone-hearted and thick-skinned. Or maybe I just don’t care much about the whole world. Despite that, I’m still glad I read Cat's Cradle and I will be surely reading more of Kurt Vonnegut, if not for love or hate than for educational purposes.


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