Fates Worse Than Death

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Fates Worse Than Death
By Kurt Vonnegut
Vinage – £8.99

Fates Worse Than Death is a collection of essays, speeches and other previously unpublished works by one of America’s finest and most inventive of writers, Kurt Vonnegut. Otherwise known as An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s, this book is essentially grounded in the fact that it has no overall structure – a facet which some may find a little bizarre. Although readers already conditioned and used to the writer’s work, will undoubtadly have already embraced it long ago, along with much of the rest of his catalogue.

That the book is made up of reproduced public speeches, throws yet another slant on how it ought to be both perceived and approached. Prime reason being, many found Vonnegut’s public speaking to be a lot more entertaining overall, than his writing; but of course, this is down to subjective opinion – as are the following (illuminating) extracts taken from various chapters throughout the book:

””James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, and a rifleman in peacetime and then in war, told me that he could not consider Hemingway a fellow soldier, since he had never submitted to training and discipline. In the Spanish Civil War and then in World War II, Hemingway took no orders and gave no orders. He came and went wherever and whenever he pleased. He actually hunted German submarines for a while in the Caribbean – in his own boat and of his own accord” (chapter five).

”The firebombing of Dresden was an emotional event without a trace of military importance. The Germans purposely kept the city free of major war industries and arsenals and troop concentrations so that it might be a safe haven for the wounded and refugees. There was no air-raid shelters to speak of and few anti-aircraft guns. It was a famous world art treasure, like Paris or Vienna or Prague, and about as sinister as a wedding cake. I will say again what I have often said in print and in speeches, that not one Allied soldier was able to advance as much as an inch because of the firebombing of Dresden. Not one prisoner of the Nazis got out of prison a micro-second earlier. Only one person on earth clearly benefited, and I am that person. I got about five dollars for each corpse, counting my fee tonight” (chapter ten).

”Manhattan is a geological phenomenon. An enormous fraction of the planet’s wealth was concentrated on a little island of solid granite. This caused crystals to sprout in such profusion that the island when viewed from the air now resembles a quartz porcupine” (chapter thirteen).

As it states on the back back cover, Fates Worse Than Death is ”a collage of his own life story, snipped up and struck down alongside his views on everything from suicidal depression to the future of the planet and Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

A literary see-saw betwixt being razor-sharp the one minute and darker than dark the next – this book goes some way in clarfying that not only did Vonnegut have a terrific mind, but that he confronted (predominantly Western) complacency head-on.

This alone makes the book, along with most of his writings, more commendable and certainly more readable than most.

David Marx

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