Jonathan Cape, 16.99. Order for 15.29 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897

Armageddon in Retrospect, by Kurt Vonnegut

Parting shots from the haunted preacher of radical American populism

A single experience can change a person forever, simply because it compels them to bear witness for the rest of their lives and to find new ways in which to do so. Had it been merely a matter of talent, Kurt Vonnegut would have been a competent, perhaps gifted, writer of the sort of paperback sci-fi and thrillers he produced in his early career neat phrases and a blistering satiric edge that stayed just on the cosy side of nightmarish.

What we now know is that he was teaching himself basic skills in order to do something considerably more ambitious. He had a vocation to tell the world what he had seen. From Slaughterhouse-Five onwards, he revealed the extent to which he was a haunted man, not only by the bombing of Dresden in 1945, which he had witnessed as a prisoner of war there, but by the loss of the illusion that his country was intrinsically good. Vonnegut was a patriotic American with no doubt that the Nazis had to be fought. He also believed with every bone in his body that the virtuous mission of destroying Fascism had been stained with the blood of civilian victims to gratify a spirit of vengeance alien to the better angels of the republic he served.

At his best which, alas, does not include all that much from this thin collection of previously unpublished fiction, essays and speeches he was a splendid preacher of American populism at its most radical. At his worst, he was still always funny and sometimes refreshingly vulgar. In the middle, he reminded us of the practicalities of nightmare; there is a solid and suspenseful story here about killing a fellow PoW for collaborating.

One piece is a straightforward memoir of what Corporal Vonnegut did, and saw, in the war. Others look to the future: one attempt to prevent war by making the soldierly enact valour in the middle of shadows of past battles brought forward by science, another by trapping the Devil who makes us fight once and for all. In a time of war and nightmare, Vonnegut's last works remind us that we can always simply say no to the whole horrible business. Even when individual pieces are weak, he was still bearing witness and speaking with the authority of one whose inner eye had been scarred by it.

Roz Kaveney's 'Superheroes' is published by IB Tauris

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power