Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I got this book because it was one of the few books in BookOff below 200 yen (I had a coupon for a free book - free as long as it was below 200 yen). The name Kurt Vonnegut sounded familiar, so I thought it couldn't hurt to give the book a chance.

And I'm glad I brought it back. Since I've never read Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat's Cradle, I came not knowing what to expect. What I found was an oddly compelling book that grabbed my attention and held it. I say oddly compelling because from the summary, the subject matter seemed dark and far away from what I normally prefer.

Mother Night is the 'autobiography' of Howard W. Campbell Jr, an American who was both a notorious Nazi propagandist and an American spy. The book is set after WWII and talks about the events leading up to his trial for war crimes in Israel.

Howard W. Campbell Jr. is a complicated protagonist. He's married to a German girl named Helga, whom he obviously loves. And it seems like that love led him to become the Nazi Propagandist. Yet he hid the secret of his American spying activities from her, not from a sense of patriotism, but for no real reason. He doesn't even have a reason why he decided to help America, considering that his friends and family (with the exception of his parents) are in Germany. He doesn't even get any recognition for it, which makes his sacrifice a self-less sacrifice.

So I guess he can really be called "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma" (first said by the immensely quotable Winston Churchill during a radio broadcast in October 1939), But like the book says up front, there is no attempt to understand his motives. It just serves to illustrate the moral of the story, that "we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be".

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