Synopses & Reviews
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
Newsweek/The Daily Beast • The Kansas City Star
This extraordinary collection of personal correspondence has all the hallmarks of Kurt Vonnegut’s fiction. Written over a sixty-year period, these letters, the vast majority of them never before published, are funny, moving, and full of the same uncanny wisdom that has endeared his work to readers worldwide.
Included in this comprehensive volume: the letter a twenty-two-year-old Vonnegut wrote home immediately upon being freed from a German POW camp, recounting the ghastly firebombing of Dresden that would be the subject of his masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five; wry dispatches from Vonnegut’s years as a struggling writer slowly finding an audience and then dealing with sudden international fame in middle age; righteously angry letters of protest to local school boards that tried to ban his work; intimate remembrances penned to high school classmates, fellow veterans, friends, and family; and letters of commiseration and encouragement to such contemporaries as Gail Godwin, Günter Grass, and Bernard Malamud.
Vonnegut’s unmediated observations on science, art, and commerce prove to be just as inventive as any found in his novels—from a crackpot scheme for manufacturing “atomic” bow ties to a tongue-in-cheek proposal that publishers be allowed to trade authors like baseball players. (“Knopf, for example, might give John Updike’s contract to Simon and Schuster, and receive Joan Didion’s contract in return.”) Taken together, these letters add considerable depth to our understanding of this one-of-a-kind literary icon, in both his public and private lives. Each letter brims with the mordant humor and openhearted humanism upon which he built his legend. And virtually every page contains a quotable nugget that will make its way into the permanent Vonnegut lexicon.
• On a job he had as a young man: “Hell is running an elevator throughout eternity in a building with only six floors.”
• To a relative who calls him a “great literary figure”: “I am an American fad — of a slightly higher order than the hula hoop.”
• To his daughter Nanny: “Most letters from a parent contain a parent’s own lost dreams disguised as good advice.”
• To Norman Mailer: “I am cuter than you are.”
Sometimes biting and ironical, sometimes achingly sweet, and always alive with the unique point of view that made him the true cultural heir to Mark Twain, these letters comprise the autobiography Kurt Vonnegut never wrote.
"This miraculous volume of selected letters provides a moving and revelatory portrait of the famed author of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. Organized by decade from the 1940s to the 2000s (Vonnegut died in 2007), the letters chart Vonnegut's life from his service in WWII to his first steps in the world of publishing, his emergence into literary fame, and beyond. The grain of Vonnegut's charming and unmistakable voice is palpable, along with his sense of humor that produces unexpected poetry on almost every page. The private and public Vonneguts both shine, as in his magical letters to his many children, or his painful reflections on divorce, war, and growing older. Elsewhere Vonnegut reveals aspects of his writing process and his philosophy of fiction, and marks his ongoing opposition to violence and censorship. Of particular literary interest are his letters to such authors as Norman Mailer, Anne Sexton, Bernard Malamud, and Jose Donoso. Edited by writer and longtime friend Wakefield, the volume begins with a warm retrospective essay, and each section is prefaced with overviews of each decade of Vonnegut's life, as well as helpful notes to explain his references. Fans will find the collection as spellbinding as Vonnegut's best novels, and casual readers will discover letters as splendid in their own way as those of Keats. Agent: The Farber Agency." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“[This collection] is by turns hilarious, heartbreaking and mundane....Vonnegut himself is a near-perfect example of the same flawed, wonderful humanity that he loved and despaired over his entire life.” NPR
“You will find yourself laughing....You also will find abundant evidence of its author's grace and generosity toward others....Congenial, whimsical and often insightful missives...one of [Vonnegut’s] very best.” Newsday
“Letters’ greatest gift is the gift of all such anthologies: It humanizes an icon...the fallibility and kindness of the real person shine through clearer in his more personal writing, separating the author from the oeuvre in a way that makes both richer.” The Onion
“Splendidly assembled and edited by Dan Wakefield...[Vonnegut’s] familiar, funny, cranky, acute voice...is chronicling his life in real time.” Kurt Andersen, The New York Times Book Review
“A literary treasure...this collection of letters — many of which have never been published — rightly can be viewed as the autobiography Vonnegut never wrote.” The Oklahoman
“Bearing all the canny observations and sardonic witticisms that distinguished his most famous works [the letters reveal] fascinating insights into Vonnegut’s private thoughts and inspirations....This is a volume fans will treasure.” Booklist
“As these remarkable letters reveal, [Vonnegut] mixes hard-edged ideas with the buoyancy of imagination and humor. His best work makes us both gasp and laugh — wishing the fire from the Roman candle would never end.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Wit, aphorism, charm, wisdom and joshery abound here....Vonnegut’s voice was as unique as his art. It is ominpresent here.” Buffalo News
“Tirelessly compiling letters and manuscripts from over seven decades of correspondence with his mentors, publishers, and even a school board director who banned his works, Wakefield finally gives the reader a sense of Vonnegut’s life without time travel or aliens to mystify and universalize his emotions....Vonnegut is stripped of any possible self-promotion and his true affection and unselfishness shows...a deep and true portrayal.” The Daily Californian
“At last: the Vonnegut book readers of the late modern master have been waiting for....It’s his voice again, live as ever, clear and unvarnished, with the pop and crackle of a hardwood fire on an Autumn night....For those of us that miss Kurt Vonnegut, it makes this collection a gift. Pick up this book, it’s like having him by your side.” NUVO
One of the great American iconoclasts holds forth on politics, war, books and writers, and his personal life in a series of conversations — including his last published interview.
During his long career Kurt Vonnegut won international praise for his novels, plays, and essays. In this new anthology of conversations with Vonnegut — which collects interviews from throughout his career — we learn much about what drove Vonnegut to write and how he viewed his work at the end.
From Kurt Vonnegut's Last Interview
"Is there another book in you, by chance?
No. Look, I'm 84 years old. Writers of fiction have usually done their best work by the time they're 45. Chess masters are through when they're 35, and so are baseball players. There are plenty of other people writing. Let them do it.
So what's the old man's game, then?
My country is in ruins. So I'm a fish in a poisoned fishbowl. I'm mostly just heartsick about this. There should have been hope. This should have been a great country. But we are despised all over the world now. I was hoping to build a country and add to its literature. That's why I served in World War II, and that's why I wrotebooks.
When someone reads one of your books, what would you like them to take from the experience?
Well, I'd like the guy — or the girl, of course — to put the book down and think, 'This is the greatest man who ever lived.'"
About the Author
Dan Wakefield first befriended Kurt Vonnegut in 1963. Like Vonnegut, he was born and raised in Indianapolis. He is a novelist and screenwriter whose books include the bestselling Going All the Way and the memoir New York in the Fifties.