The first sentence of The Books of Bokonon is this:
“All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.”
My Bokonist warning is this:
Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book, either.
For July, my ongoing reviews of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s best novels features Cat’s Cradle, a very funny book about the end of the world. As it’s divided into many very short chapters, it also makes good summer reading—- despite the fact that it may induce actual thinking.
Title: Cat’s Cradle
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Original Publication Date: 1963
“He said science was going to discover the basic secret of life someday,” the bartender put in. He scratched his head and frowned. “Didn’t I read in the paper the other day where they’d finally found out what it was?”
“I missed that,” I murmured.
“I saw that,” said Sandra. “About two days ago.”
“That’s right,” said the bartender.
“What is the secret of life?” I asked.
“I forget,” said Sandra.
“Protein,” the bartender declared. “They found out something about protein.”
“Yeah,” said Sandra. “That’s it.”
A man researching a book on the human side of the day they dropped the A-bomb finds himself caught in a series of absurd incidents that will lead to the end of the world.
1. Vonnegut demonstrates his eye for the ironic, the absurd, and the wildly inventive. These come fast, furious, and under hilariously improbable titles. The most famous source of absurd observations in this novel is Bokonism, a fictitious religion based on admitted lies which, however, makes sense: or at least as much sense as any belief-system practised in the real world.
Besides, it seems depressingly clear that people, as this novel observes, prefer comforting lies to the truth.
2. Mona’s rebuffing of Jonah in the bomb shelter works beautifully.
The book starts a bit slowly.
Originality: 6/6 Just flipping through this book and reading chapter titles should tell you something about its originality.
Story: 5/6. Everything ties together in one hysterically funny apocalypse.
Characterization: 4/6. Vonnegut has a fine understanding of human nature, but he doesn’t specialize in developed characters.
Imagery: 5/6. The events leading to “The Grand Ah-Whoom” are unforgettable.
Emotional Response: 6/6. I read this book first at 17; more than two decades later, it still appeals to me.
Overall Score: 5/6
In total, Cat’s Cradle receives 36/42
Among Vonnegut’s novels, I rank this one second only to Slaughterhouse Five.
The title of Vonnegut’s collection of non-fiction, Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons, derives from Bokonist terms used in Cat’s Cradle.
My final review in this series will be Galapagos, Vonnegut’s other chuckle-filled look at the end of things.