I picked this book up last week while browsing the stacks at a library. It reminded me that I still need to read Slaughterhouse-Five but the library I was at did not have an available copy. Thus, A Man Without a Country became my first Vonnegut read.
A Man Without a Country is a collection of thoughts and opinions. A war veteran, Vonnegut touched on our present war and how we haven’t learned much from our past wars, namely Vietnam. To paraphrase, “Vietnam made billionaires out of millionaires, today’s war is making trillionaires out of billionaires.” He predicts a sad future for America and our planet, likening politicians to power hungry chimpanzees and calling out people’s apathy for anything beyond their present daily issues. We’re short-sighted and greedy and we’re killing our planet. I think he likened people in general to the planet’s version of AIDs. The depressing picture he paints is laced with few humorous quips, humane tiny silver linings and an appreciation for music. Overall though, A Man Without a Country reads like a journal by a man who is disillusioned by his country and its people, save for a few saints and the librarians.
I hope my appreciation for this short and quick read is apparent through the amount of excerpts I pulled out. I cannot wait to check out his novels.
“The biggest truth to face now – what is probably making me unfunny now for the remainder of my life – is that I don’t think people give a damn whether the planet goes on or not. It seems to me as if everyone is living as members of Alcoholics Anonymous do, day by day. And a few more days will be enough. I know of very little people who are dreaming of a world for their grandchildren.”
“Do you realize that all great literature – Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, A Farewell to Arms, The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage, The Iliad and The Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, The Bible, and “The Charge of the Light Brigade” – are all about what a bummer it is to be a human being? (Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that?”
“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
“Speaking of plunging into war, do you know why I think George W. Bush is so pissed off at Arabs? They brought us algebra. Also the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which Europeans had never had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.”
“But I replied that what made being alive almost worthwhile for me, besides music, was all the saints I met, who could be anywhere. By saints I meant people who behaved decently in a strikingly indecent society.”
“… his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’
So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grand kids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”
If reading this book wasn’t nice, I don’t know what is.