Review of A Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut

This is a book review of A Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut which was released in 2005. However, let me state that I am reviewing the 2007 release and reprint of A Man Without A Country through Random House Trade Paperbacks. As I understand it, A Man Without A Country was Kurt’s last released work before his death, though other unpublished works of his were released post-humorously. In fact, the Los Angeles Times is quoted as saying that this book “may be as close as Vonnegut ever comes to a memoir,”[1] and perhaps it is just that - a memoir that has now turned classic for those who feel ill-fitted in this contradictory world.
 

Though I was familiar with Kurt Vonnegut as an author, I had not previously read A Man Without A Country, which in many ways is one of his most classic writings. As I sat in a train station, waiting for a connection, this book was sitting on the shelf of a newsstand and it stood out to me because I too often feel the lingering loneliness of being an ill fit to a context or era. This read has been on my wishlist for a while, after hearing another author reference a few quotes from it. Kurt hopes to reflect on, and offer commentary on, the world around us, through his experiences, lens, and paradigm. Vonnegut reflects on the great tragedies and worries of life with direct honesty and awkward humor. In fact, Vonnegut remarks that laughter, as “God knows, that’s the soul seeking some relief.”[2] Though laughter is a way of dealing with the great theatrics of life, “humor is an almost physiological response to fear.”[3] There is much in the distressed world around us that invokes worry, fear, and anxiety; and it is those realities that Vonnegut reflects on without apology in this book, from a reflective set towards the end of his life.

 

By all means A Man Without A Country is a short read, with it being just over 140 pages. However, it is a captivating book. However, perhaps “a book” is not the right word to describe this literary work, because this book rather feels like a tell-it-all letter that passes on the baton, from Vonnegut (now a grandfather) to the next generation, with all the sass and bare-it-all honesty that we would expect from someone with an aged-act-of-retrospection. His writing is not all humor, but mostly a creative holding up of a mirror to show the truth of the world around us. As Vonnegut shares, “the truth can be really powerful stuff.”[4] The back of the cover describes this work as penetrating, introspective, incisive, and laugh-out-loud funny.[5] I could not find better words to captivate all that this book was and expressed. 

 

I especially appreciated Vonnegut’s reflections on the destructive existence humanity has been to the created world around us. Kurt remarks, “We have mortally wounded this sweet life-supporting planet – the only one in the whole Milky Way – with a century of transportation whoopee.”[6] Additionally, he adds, “Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power.”[7] As a result of that power, “we could have saved the power but unfortunately, we are just “too damn cheap and lazy.”[8] I can’t help but underline and highlight over and over again his prophetic challenge that most people do not “give a damn whether the planet goes on or not. It seems to me [Vonnegut] 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 few people who are dreaming of a world for their grandchildren.”[9] I am taking Kurt’s prophetic challenge to heart, and I want to dream of a world for my grandchildren.

 

Throughout his reflections, I also especially appreciated his thoughts on destructive power, the violent world emerging around us, failed ideas of progress, and the lack of reasoning left in our political spheres. He rightly jabs that it seems “only nut classes want to be president.”[10]  Reflection on the world is needed more than ever because progress hasn’t kept its promise to us. In fact, as Vonnegut points out, “Progress has beat the heck out of me.”[11]In my own journaling, I am finding how much progress and social connection isn’t what I had hoped for it to be at this stage in my life. I too feel beat up by progress, and contradictorily still energized by other aspects of it.

 

Vonnegut is a humanist, at least that is how he identifies in his writings, but his viewpoint on Jesus and Christianity cannot be ignored. In fact, I think his outside view of Christianity is something we need to pay attention to. As an outsider, I also like to think Vonnegut is closer to following Jesus than he was willing to see for himself. In fact, his apologetic for God is reflected in his own desire for his epitaph to read that “the only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.”[12] Music represents the beauty in the world, a beautiful resulting creation from the work of broken hands. However, Vonnegut answers his heartfelt resonance with Jesus by sharing, that if Jesus had not delivered the sermon on the mount, an overwhelming message and call to mercy and pity, he [Vonnegut] would not want to be human at all.[13] Even more, Vonnegut wonders why Christians do not seem to have the Beatitudes on their lips, mobilizing their actions, or hanging in their places of business - at least as much as they do with the Ten Commandments. It seems for him, the Beatitudes were a new set of ethics and approaches to faith and life that cannot be ignored. I cannot disagree. Though we may disagree on other aspects of Christ’s divinity and purpose.


I recommend this classic read - A Man Without A Country - as a window into popular cultural understanding as well as a mirror to the contradictory nature of the world around us. Inevitably, Kurt calls us to a greater intentionality in life. We live in a time where progress has failed us in many ways. Our world is living in a corrupt way, and Vonnegut remarks “I now know that there is not a chance in hell of America becoming humane and reasonable.”[14] In response to that, we must remember that “how beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are on earth to fart around,” and that “we are here to help each other get through this thing.”[15]


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Read Highlights & Quotes



 

[1] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), Front Cover.

[2] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 3.

[3] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 3.

[4] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 20.

[5] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), Back Cover.

[6] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 9.

[7] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 71.

[8] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 122,

[9] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 70-71.

[10] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 102.

[11] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 56.

[12] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 22.

[13] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 80-81.

[14] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 71.

[15] Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country (New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005), 80-81.

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