On this day in 1973, newspapers report the burning of 36 copies of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
Vonnegut’s book was a combination of real events and science fiction. His hero, Billy Pilgrim, was a World War II soldier who witnessed the firebombing of Dresden, as had Vonnegut himself. Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time” and thereafter lives a double existence-one life on an alien planet where a resigned acceptance of inevitable doom expresses itself philosophically in the hopeless locution “And so it goes.” In his life on Earth, Pilgrim preaches the same philosophy. Some found the book’s pessimistic outlook and black humor unsuitable for school children.
Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana. He attended Cornell and joined the Air Force during World War II. He was captured by Germans and held in Dresden, where he was forced to dig out dead and charred bodies in the aftermath of the city’s bombing. After the war, he studied anthropology at the University of Chicago and later wrote journalism and public relations material.
Vonnegut’s other novels, including Cat’s Cradle (1963), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Galapagos (1985), and others, did not generate as much controversy as Slaughterhouse-Five. His experimental writing style, combining the real, the absurd, the satiric, and the fanciful, attracted attention and made his books popular. Vonnegut is also a gifted graphic artist whose satirical sketches appear in some of his later novels, including Breakfast of Champions.