War and Peace, Vonnegut Style

As a foot soldier and prisoner in Word War II, Kurt Vonnegut experienced pointless cruelties and the absurdities of military life. This posthumous collection contains 11 never-before-published short pieces on war as well as his last written speech delivered by his son on April 27, 2007, two weeks after his death. It opens with the letter he wrote his parents in 1945 announcing his P.O.W. status. Fans of Slaughterhouse Five will recognize the grim business of sifting through the remains of Dresden after the Allied bombing in “Guns Before Butter” and “Wailing Shall Be In All Streets.” Other stories here find farce in military life or explore the ethical compromises needed to survive. One clever fable suggests ending tyranny is akin to trapping a unicorn. The stories don’t carry dates and we’re left to assume they came late in the writer’s life. All of Vonnegut’s strengths are flexed, especially his way of making dark humor out of matter-of-fact horror. There’s even a time travel tale that suggests some men will do anything to find a battle even in a golden age of peace. Decorated with the author’s thematic sketches, and prefaced by novelist/son Mark Vonnegut (The Eden Express), Retrospect is required reading in a time of questionable conflict.—Cabbage Rabbit

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