A Man Without a Country, by Kurt VonnegutBooks — By Jordan Green on April 16, 2007 at 12:00 am
It’s amazing what you can learn when you’re willing. Even if you’re an Evangelical Christian and your teacher is an atheist. Even if you’re a no-name wannabe writer and your teacher is Kurt Vonnegut. Even if you never meet.
Vonnegut’s newest book, the one he said he’d never write, A Man without a Country has arrived in paperback…a very slim, lightweight, back pocket-worthy volume that can be read in one sitting…which should be repeated over and over. Let’s face it, this book is as close as most of us will get to being able to talk with the man who penned Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions.
Composed of twelve very short chapters with titles like “I turned 82 on November 11″ and “I used to be the owner and manager of an automobile dealership,” and peppered with original illustrations by the author, A Man without a Country is “as close Vonnegut ever comes to a memoir,” as a reviewer from the LA Times notes.
Among Vonnegut’s heroes are Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, a socialist presidential candidate from Indiana named Eugene Debs, and Jesus Christ. That’s right, Christ himself. He elicits the life and teachings of Jesus more comfortably and, dare I say, poignantly than most preachers, simultaneously quoting the Beatitudes while reminding readers that even Hitler claimed to be a Christian. He then wonders why those Christians who demand that the Ten Commandments be displayed in courtrooms don’t call, instead, for the Sermon on the Mount, “‘Blessed are the merciful’ in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”
Read A Man without a Country. And then read it again. Memorize passages and quote them to your friends. Sure you’ll sound mildly cynical, but you’ll also sound wildly smart.
Postscript: April 12, 2007
Kurt Vonnegut died last night. He was 84.
His legacy as a great American writer is not in question, it practically preceded his death. His fourteen novels, in addition to plays, short stories, essays and speeches are a monument to his genius and creativity. But I won’t remember him foremost for his novels and stories, nor for his activism and speeches; I remember him for a few short sentences that so perfectly define his morality, that of a self-proclaimed skeptic. They comprise a mantra of sorts that culminate in an echo of Jesus’ second greatest commandment. These sentences, originally from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and later repeated in Man Without a Country, define Vonnegut to me:
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies