Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's CradleAs Bokonon, narrator Jonah, and their puppet master himself, Kurt Vonnegut, I will warn the reader: “All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.” In the precise terminology of Bokonon, founder of a false religion, these are “foma.”

I first read Cat’s Cradle at the beach during the summer between tenth and eleventh grade, instantly making me a disciple of Vonnegut’s wry, humane, somewhat-repetitive oeuvre. Cat’s Cradle is hilarious, apocalyptic, trenchant, and irreverent. If there is only one Vonnegut novel you read, undoubtedly this should be the one (ok, well you’d better also read Slaughterhouse Five). Yesterday’s re-read was my fourth or fifth time through this book in ten years, and I was pleased to find that it still makes me laugh, and think, and shudder. It’s simply one of my favorite books and picking it up again was a perfect way to start a summer vacation.

Cat’s Cradle is narrated by John, who prefers that you call him “Jonah.” Jonah is a freelance writer piecing together, in abortive fits and starts, a book about the creation of the atom bomb and what its creators did on August 6, 1945 when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He focuses his research on the eccentric, “pure-research” scientist, Felix Hoenikker, credited as “the father” of the bomb (not in real life, but in the book). Hoenikker, unencumbered by any ethical considerations, playfully creates trinkets and weapons in a “pure research” lab that then patents and sells the weapons to the US military. Jonah learns that before his death, Hoenikker may have worked on a weapon far more potent than a hydrogen bomb. Felix is survived by three oddball children.

Far away from the New York research facility, the Republic of the Island of San Lorenzo lies in the balmy Caribbean. The island has been much colonized and oppressed under successive regimes of the Spanish, the Catholic Church, Big American Sugar, and petty dictators. Everyone on San Lorenzo follows a fake religion, called Bokonism, which admits that it is completely made-up. The message of Bokonism, the fate of Jonah, and indeed the world, lie unexpectedly on this unassuming island. Read the book, and you’ll make it to that island, after a few laughs and seeming-detours through Cold War America.

Published in 1963, Cat’s Cradle is a strong indictment of the suicidal madness of Cold War geopolitics and the only-slightly-less insane foreign policy of the US and its Third World puppet-states during the long standoff with the Soviet Union. It is also a powerful meditation on social and environmental interconnectedness and complexity. Here too is a critique of “Science” (capital S) as rationalism capable of completely describing (capital T) Truth.

This books make you laugh your way to the end of the world.

Rating: “See the cat? See the cradle?” Yes. I give this book an (Ice) 9 out of 10. You’ll get that shameful pun after you read it.

Availability: SMCM Library, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating: Highly Recommended

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