A Man without a Country

I love Kurt Vonnegut. It took me a while to understand what he is all about, because he is a bit peculiar, but now I love him. I remember the first time I read him, I got Cat’s Cradle for my birthday, but I read it wrong. I read it as a regular book, focusing on plot and because of that, I think, I missed a lot of the good of the book. Since then I’ve had more experience with his writing and have learned to appreciate Vonnegut’s thoughts and the way he says things – things I’ve known all along, but have never looked at from that perspective before (check out this list with the 15 things he’s said better than anyone).

In A Man without a Country Vonnegut explores a lot of different topics in a collection of essays – the meaning of life, love, politics and story structures. And – here’s the thing I love about him – he’s quite often perfectly miserable and incredibly funny. On the topic of cigarettes he writes:

Here’s the news: I am going to sue the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, manufacturers of Pall Mall cigarettes, for a billion bucks! Starting when I was only twelve years old, I have never chain-smoked anything but unfiltered Pall Malls. And for many years now, right on the package, Brown & Williamson have promised to kill me.
But I am eighty-two. Thanks a lot, you dirty rats. The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.

And then again:

I am, of course, notoriously hooked on cigarettes, I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.

In a different essay he talks about marriages and how sad it is that we don’t have extended families any more. As women want a whole lot of people to talk to about everything and men just wants pals to tell dumb jokes to, marriage used to mean that you got a lot of new family members to talk to. Now it’s just one more person:

When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: “You are not enough people!”

I was surprised at how many times I laughed at this book. Going through pages of thoughts, certain sentences jumped out at me from time to time and caught me off guard. As with Kurt’s “favourite joke”:

We had a memorial service for Isaac [Asimov] a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, ‘Isaac is up in heaven now.’ It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should die, God forbid, I hope you will say, ‘Kurt is up in heaven now.’ That’s my favorite joke.

Vonnegut also underlines the importance of being kind to each other. As his son tells him:

Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.

And who can think of a better reason to be here?

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