May 30, 2012

The Second Noah's Ark: A Book Review of Vonnegut's Galapagos


Just finished reading Vonnegut's novel Gallapagos.  Now, if you're like I was until recently, you've never heard of this novel.  You've got your Slaughterhouse Five, maybe Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions.  But though the title sounds interesting, since you've never heard of it before, it's probably not worth reading.  

Exactly what I thought.

But I happened to pick it up anyway (it had blue-footed boobies on the front).  And I loved it.  A real mind-expander.

The premise is this:  one of the welders on a boat bound for Ecuador is accidentally killed.  He is bound for the afterlife (down a swirling blue tunnel, according to Vonnegut) but still has some questions about the ways of human beings.  Because of this curiosity, he has to remain a ghost for one million years.
The boat is meant to be for 'The nature cruise of the century'- to the Galapagos Islands.  Celebrities are booked, all is well- until the world economy falls apart at the same time that a mysterious disease makes most of humanity infertile.  So the few who make it aboard the ship become the last hope of humanity as they are shipwrecked on Galapagos (a chain of islands, by the way- not one island).

Where do you picture humanity being in a million years from now?  I would venture that it is nothing like Vonnegut pictured when he wrote this novel.  And if that wasn't enough- the narrator is a ghostly Vietnam War veteran who really knows how to tell a story in a surprising, unconventional way.  The narrative jumps back and forth from the initial shipwreck, to a million years in the future, to the days leading up to the voyage, constantly.  There is even a reason given why the narrator does this, but you'll have to read the novel to understand it.

Perhaps the biggest point Vonnegut was making through this novel, though, was that we have such big brains and use them so poorly.  He describes again and again how the humans of 1986 used their brains for worry, for deceit, and for fantasizing about things that never would happen, among other things, instead of being concerned with more important issues including their own health and survival.Have you ever felt that your intellegence or education did nothing but get you into trouble or allow you to worry?  Have you ever envied those who were supposedly less 'gifted' but looked happier?  Then this deserves a spot on your reading list.

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