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Best known now by the 1996 Nick Nolte film of the same title, Mother Night (1961) is a dazzling narrative of false, shifting identity. The story tells of the odyssey of Howard Campbell, Jr., the book’s protagonist, and is a paradigm of shifting loyalties, ambiguous commitment, and tales of personal compromise. Campbell is an American emigre in Germany at the time of Hitler’s ascension; he is married to a German, his relations with the Nazi regime are excellent, and he agrees to spy for them and to become a broadcaster for the regime; but then, increasingly disaffected, Campbell becomes a double agent, then perhaps a triple agent, sending coded messages to the Allies.

After the War, he is tried for war crimes but is exonerated. The novel is written in memoir format from the point of view of the exiled Campbell, who, indifferent to outcome, plots suicide.

Here is a moral tale without a moral, or perhaps, according to Vonnegut, a tale with several morals. Vonnegut, a science fiction writer in his early career, knew the science fiction community very well, and it is more or less accepted that the conflicted and indecipherable Howard Campbell is modeled upon John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971), the great editor of Astounding and Analog whose decades long rightward drift led him to endorse George Wallace in 1968.

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.

Topics: Germany, 1940s, Metafiction, Black Humor, Dark, World War II, Nazis, War, Spies, Morality, Antihero, Made into a Movie, Adolf Hitler, Postmodern, Unreliable Narrator, and 20th Century

Published: RosettaBooks on Aug 21, 1968
ISBN: 9780795319044
List price: $8.99
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A great read. Very well written with lots to ponder. read more
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It was in Madrid, in 1997. I was sixteen, and more homesick than I have ever been in my life. I had been living in Spain for a summer, and had lost all perspective on absence and eventual return. "Home" no longer even seemed real to me, although now I would snap up a summer in sunny Spain without a backward glance, secure in the knowledge (and maybe I shouldn't be) that Portland would be here when I got back. But back then I was miserable as only a sixteen-year-old can be. And I was in a transitional part of the trip (transitions have never been my strong point) between the segment where I was living with my host family in Galicia, and the segment where my parents and I would be doing tourist stuff around the rest of the country. I was staying in the dorms at the Universidad de Madrid with all the other kids in my program, most of whom were just there because they could score legal alcohol. So they were staying up all night drinking - and singing, and puking - very loudly, in the rooms above and to the side of me.I was so exhausted from acute homesickness, forced sleep deprivation and general teen angst that I broke down in tears one afternoon, sitting against a tree in the Retiro. A kind old Spanish man saw me crying, came over and tried to find out what was wrong, but I didn't have the word for "to miss" in Spanish. In my agitated state most of my Spanish seemed to desert me, actually, so the conversation went something like:Him: "What's wrong? Don't cry!"Me: "Nothing, it's fine."Him: "Then why are you crying?"Me: "Don't worry about it."Him: "Do you need any help?"Me: "Um...I don't have any parents!"Him: "You are an orphan? Do you have a place to stay?"Me: "No, I don't need a place to stay, I just - they're in America!"Him: "And they left you here?"And so on an so forth. He was plainly a nice old man who was touched by my totally out-of-proportion public display of grief, but unfortunately his kindness only made my crying worse. Everything made it worse, actually. The attention of one of the more sympathetic kids in my program, the worried glances of the administrators, the friendly Spaniards and their persistence in mistaking me for a Portuguese girl rather than an American - nothing helped until I wandered into a bookstore with a little English-language section, and bought myself Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night.It's hard to explain why a darkly funny novel about an American who pretends too well to be a Nazi would succeed where peers, elders and Madrileños had failed. Partially, it was just the familiar voice, the colloquial American English that I was missing in the air around me. Partially it was the good, old-fashioned reminder that things could be a lot worse: I could be reviled by my entire country for my role as a propagandist in the service of a cause I detested, my only friends - ironically - wannabe neo-fascists trying ineptly to recreate Hitler's regime. Everyone I admired could want to kick my teeth in in righteous anger, and I could be beset by sycophantic bigots who wouldn't even let me hear my own thoughts. By comparison a bunch of drunk high-schoolers in a European capital don't seem so bad.Undeniably, the humor helped - the author's ear for the ridiculous and true, and his unbeatable comic timing. But I think the single most helpful and calming - yet sobering - aspect of Vonnegut's prose on my overactive teenage brain was his knack of describing human society - adult society, complex society - as if to a child, thereby exposing how inexcusably ludicrous our behavior comes to be, and the way in which all of our excuses and the stories we tell ourselves only serve to make our behavior more preposterous, rather than less, as we like to think. In many ways it's a dark vision of the world, but looked at in another way it's a valuable tool, incredibly useful whenever one's lack of perspective spirals out of control. Reading Mother Night on those hot evenings in Madrid, while adolescent numbskulls partied above me, Vonnegut's prose began to force my brain to break the situation into its components: humans, lots of humans, doing their best (often not very good) and acting silly. Some humans like to drink fermented barley-water until they are so dehydrated that their heads feel like exploding - they do this night after night. Some humans feel bored at home and lonely anywhere else. So it goes.I think that, as my friend Ariel suggested, we are more in need of such perspective now than I ever was as a grim sixteen-year-old. I feel grateful to Kurt Vonnegut for, among so many other things, showing me a hint at how to achieve it.read more
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I read this book only because it was written by Vonnegut and it is one of his best. It is about a Nazi propaganda peddler during WW2 and his life running from war crimes. I really enjoyed this because it was great to see what Vonnegut thought life would be like for a Nazi during WW2. He never fails to add humour to the tragic war.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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A great read. Very well written with lots to ponder.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It was in Madrid, in 1997. I was sixteen, and more homesick than I have ever been in my life. I had been living in Spain for a summer, and had lost all perspective on absence and eventual return. "Home" no longer even seemed real to me, although now I would snap up a summer in sunny Spain without a backward glance, secure in the knowledge (and maybe I shouldn't be) that Portland would be here when I got back. But back then I was miserable as only a sixteen-year-old can be. And I was in a transitional part of the trip (transitions have never been my strong point) between the segment where I was living with my host family in Galicia, and the segment where my parents and I would be doing tourist stuff around the rest of the country. I was staying in the dorms at the Universidad de Madrid with all the other kids in my program, most of whom were just there because they could score legal alcohol. So they were staying up all night drinking - and singing, and puking - very loudly, in the rooms above and to the side of me.I was so exhausted from acute homesickness, forced sleep deprivation and general teen angst that I broke down in tears one afternoon, sitting against a tree in the Retiro. A kind old Spanish man saw me crying, came over and tried to find out what was wrong, but I didn't have the word for "to miss" in Spanish. In my agitated state most of my Spanish seemed to desert me, actually, so the conversation went something like:Him: "What's wrong? Don't cry!"Me: "Nothing, it's fine."Him: "Then why are you crying?"Me: "Don't worry about it."Him: "Do you need any help?"Me: "Um...I don't have any parents!"Him: "You are an orphan? Do you have a place to stay?"Me: "No, I don't need a place to stay, I just - they're in America!"Him: "And they left you here?"And so on an so forth. He was plainly a nice old man who was touched by my totally out-of-proportion public display of grief, but unfortunately his kindness only made my crying worse. Everything made it worse, actually. The attention of one of the more sympathetic kids in my program, the worried glances of the administrators, the friendly Spaniards and their persistence in mistaking me for a Portuguese girl rather than an American - nothing helped until I wandered into a bookstore with a little English-language section, and bought myself Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night.It's hard to explain why a darkly funny novel about an American who pretends too well to be a Nazi would succeed where peers, elders and Madrileños had failed. Partially, it was just the familiar voice, the colloquial American English that I was missing in the air around me. Partially it was the good, old-fashioned reminder that things could be a lot worse: I could be reviled by my entire country for my role as a propagandist in the service of a cause I detested, my only friends - ironically - wannabe neo-fascists trying ineptly to recreate Hitler's regime. Everyone I admired could want to kick my teeth in in righteous anger, and I could be beset by sycophantic bigots who wouldn't even let me hear my own thoughts. By comparison a bunch of drunk high-schoolers in a European capital don't seem so bad.Undeniably, the humor helped - the author's ear for the ridiculous and true, and his unbeatable comic timing. But I think the single most helpful and calming - yet sobering - aspect of Vonnegut's prose on my overactive teenage brain was his knack of describing human society - adult society, complex society - as if to a child, thereby exposing how inexcusably ludicrous our behavior comes to be, and the way in which all of our excuses and the stories we tell ourselves only serve to make our behavior more preposterous, rather than less, as we like to think. In many ways it's a dark vision of the world, but looked at in another way it's a valuable tool, incredibly useful whenever one's lack of perspective spirals out of control. Reading Mother Night on those hot evenings in Madrid, while adolescent numbskulls partied above me, Vonnegut's prose began to force my brain to break the situation into its components: humans, lots of humans, doing their best (often not very good) and acting silly. Some humans like to drink fermented barley-water until they are so dehydrated that their heads feel like exploding - they do this night after night. Some humans feel bored at home and lonely anywhere else. So it goes.I think that, as my friend Ariel suggested, we are more in need of such perspective now than I ever was as a grim sixteen-year-old. I feel grateful to Kurt Vonnegut for, among so many other things, showing me a hint at how to achieve it.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I read this book only because it was written by Vonnegut and it is one of his best. It is about a Nazi propaganda peddler during WW2 and his life running from war crimes. I really enjoyed this because it was great to see what Vonnegut thought life would be like for a Nazi during WW2. He never fails to add humour to the tragic war.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Wow, glancing over the shoulder of a passenger on the train this morning, this title caught my eye...and brought back the memory of reading this masterpiece. I totally forgot this classic and knew I didn't add it here. A remarkable novel about one man's discovery of his inner self, a man accused of "crimes against humanity" during world war 2. But things are not what they seem to be on the surface. Read this wonderful book. And thank you to the man on the subway for bringing this back to me.
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When I finished this novel, I knew that I had read something special. I had already read several of Vonnegut's novels including Slaughterhouse Five (which I read in college) when I was told by a clerk at a bookstore that this novel was Vonnegut's masterpiece. He was right. Everything in the work is not what it seems. The novel itself is broken into small chapters, each one a gem with some new twist or character, making the work fast paced and eminently readable. God, I wish I could write like this guy.
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One of my favorite books of all-time, and probably my favorite Vonnegut creation. I haven't read them all yet, but I think I like this one the best of those I have read.
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