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Bluebeard, published in 1987, is Vonnegut’s meditation on art, artists, surrealism, and disaster. Meet Rabo Karabekian, a moderately successful surrealist painter, who we meet late in life and see struggling (like all of Vonnegut’s key characters), with the dregs of unresolved pain and the consequences of brutality. Loosely based on the legend of Bluebeard (best realized in Bela Bartok’s one-act opera), the novel follows Karabekian through the last events in his life that is heavy with women, painting, artistic ambition, artistic fraudulence, and as of yet unknown consequence.

Vonnegut’s intention here is not so much satirical (although the contemporary art scene would be easy enough to deconstruct), nor is it documentary (although Karabekian does carry elements of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko). Instead, Vonnegut is using art for the same purpose he used science fiction cliches in Slaughterhouse-Five; as a filter through which he can illuminate the savagery, cruelty, and the essentially comic misdirection of human existence.

Readers will recognize familiar Vonnegut character types and archetypes as they drift in and out through the background; meanwhile, Karabekian, betrayed and betrayer, sinks through a bottomless haze of recollection. Like most of Vonnegut’s late works, this is both science fiction and cruel contemporary realism at once, using science fiction as metaphor for human damage as well as failure to perceive. Readers will find that Vonnegut’s protagonists can never really clarify for us whether they are ultimately unwitting victims or simple barbarians, leaving it up to the reader to determine in which genre this book really fits, if any at all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is one of the most beloved American writers of the twentieth century. Vonnegut’s audience increased steadily since his first five pieces in the 1950s and grew from there. His 1968 novel Slaughterhouse-Five has become a canonic war novel with Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 to form the truest and darkest of what came from World War II.

Vonnegut began his career as a science fiction writer, and his early novels--Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan--were categorized as such even as they appealed to an audience far beyond the reach of the category. In the 1960s, Vonnegut became closely associated with the Baby Boomer generation, a writer on that side, so to speak.

Now that Vonnegut’s work has been studied as a large body of work, it has been more deeply understood and unified. There is a consistency to his satirical insight, humor and anger which makes his work so synergistic. It seems clear that the more of Vonnegut’s work you read, the more it resonates and the more you wish to read. Scholars believe that Vonnegut’s reputation (like Mark Twain’s) will grow steadily through the decades as his work continues to increase in relevance and new connections are formed, new insights made.

ABOUT THE SERIES

Author Kurt Vonnegut is considered by most to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His books Slaughterhouse-Five (named after Vonnegut’s World War II POW experience) and Cat’s Cradle are considered among his top works. RosettaBooks offers here a complete range of Vonnegut’s work, including his first novel (Player Piano, 1952) for readers familiar with Vonnegut’s work as well as newcomers.

Published: RosettaBooks on Sep 2, 1987
ISBN: 9780795319341
List price: $8.99
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Something about this book hits that wonderful middle ground of what I love about Vonnegut: there's a great deal of comfort and familiarity with the tone and style (though it pretends to be the autobiography of world-renowned American Expressionist painter Rabo Karabekian) while at the same time having an enthralling and imaginative story to tell.Spanning momentous events in Rabo's life, it bounces effortlessly across time and space, and by the end has tied the whole of his wondrous life together by solving, in marvelous fashion, the central mystery posed early in the book.By the end, you realize that not a single word has been wasted, and it becomes impossible not to appreciate what a marvel of craftsmanship this particular work is.Easily among Vonnegut's finest.read more
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Another Vonnegut classic. Tells the story of Armenian-American, famous painter Rabo Karebekian. Karebekian is now an old man "hermited" up in his Long Island mansion until a woman comes to stay with him and livens up the place. She forces Karebekian to write his autobiography(Bluebeard). Full of Vonneguts unique brand of satire and wisdom.read more
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One of KV's later works. Rabo Karabekian is me in a lot of ways. Without the potato barn. Or the giant painting of WWII.read more
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Reviews

Something about this book hits that wonderful middle ground of what I love about Vonnegut: there's a great deal of comfort and familiarity with the tone and style (though it pretends to be the autobiography of world-renowned American Expressionist painter Rabo Karabekian) while at the same time having an enthralling and imaginative story to tell.Spanning momentous events in Rabo's life, it bounces effortlessly across time and space, and by the end has tied the whole of his wondrous life together by solving, in marvelous fashion, the central mystery posed early in the book.By the end, you realize that not a single word has been wasted, and it becomes impossible not to appreciate what a marvel of craftsmanship this particular work is.Easily among Vonnegut's finest.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Another Vonnegut classic. Tells the story of Armenian-American, famous painter Rabo Karebekian. Karebekian is now an old man "hermited" up in his Long Island mansion until a woman comes to stay with him and livens up the place. She forces Karebekian to write his autobiography(Bluebeard). Full of Vonneguts unique brand of satire and wisdom.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
One of KV's later works. Rabo Karabekian is me in a lot of ways. Without the potato barn. Or the giant painting of WWII.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Rene Magritte painted a very famous picture of a pipe with the text Ceci n'est pas une pipe - This is not a pipe. And he was right: it was a representation of a pipe, but what it actually is is acrylic paint on a canvas. (Then again, in that statement we might want to consult with Bill Clinton "on what the meaning of the word 'is' is"). This self-aware and ultimately self-defeating anti-ideal espoused by modern and postmodern art, the absence or artificiality of its meaning, is satirized in Bluebeard. Rabo Karabekian is a failed artist, whose paintings literally disintegrated due to a poor (but unforseeable) choice of materials. Now, at the twilight of his years, he sets out to write an autobiography. Unfortunately, like his paintings, the book quickly devolves in an abstract and aimless rambling about the parts of his life that he can still remember. And yet, there turns out to be value in that selective representation. Rabo's artistic philosophy and training has ranged all the way from "Draw everything the way it really is" (early in life) to telling his audience to "Make up your own stories as you look at the whatchamacallit" (very late). Yet the abstractions and ambiguities that define modern art are nevertheless choices made by the artists, that can effect an emotional impact on audiences. So art does not contain Meaning so much as a multiplicity of meanings, and audiences can come away with (ill-defined but nevertheless real) emotionally resonant somethings rather than nothing.
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This lilting powerhouse of American literature is closer in some ways to Salinger than the typical ex-Dresden-bombing-middle-American-ethnic-science-fiction protagonist cavorting with unexpected celebrity and/or beautiful women. The main character, an Armenian veteran, still is graced with Vonnegutian coincidences but among a more Great American Novel/Salinger cast, with some nods to New York, although set globally and in the Hamptons. In the book, Rabo, the main character, is an erstwhile early member of the Abstract Expressionist painting movement. The book touches on generosity, minorities-with-lack-of-mentorship, love, fate of women in our universal struggle, without some of the more common Vonnegut problems of lust, technology, and ignorance. Perhaps Vonnegut's best.
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It had been some 15 years since I had last read Vonnegut, and reading Bluebeard now reminded me why. While he's undeniably entertaining, Vonnegut's insights are not particularly deep or challenging: war is bad, men are bad to women, art should be earnest, etc. etc.It would make more sense if these books were marketed towards young adults.
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