Category Archives: Reading

Mother Night

By Kurt Vonnegut

Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is one of the most wanted, treasonous war criminals from WWII. As a U.S. writer in Germany, Campbell made his living writing plays that made small syndication and novels that didn’t make it past drafts until the Nazis come to power. Campbell became one of the most prominent propagandists for the Nazi party with broadcasts heard around the world, and for that he is a wanted man. Or is he? Campbell’s version of the story relates a tale in which he only took on this role as a spy who conveyed secret messages to U.S. forces by changes in tone, emphasis and other verbal cues. The problem is that nobody knows the man who recruited him to do his spy work. At war’s end, he takes refuge in New York hoping both to lose himself and find himself among the masses. Having lost his wife, his passion and his reputation to the war, he tries desperately to reconnect with something, anything that will bring him meaning. As he grows a small network of personal connections, his truth becomes entangled in a snarl of complicated cover-ups which could ultimately lead to his capture and persecution.

“Mother Night” by Kurt Vonnegut is the story of a man who tells tales for a living, both in his presumed proper career as well as his undercover career. The layers of story and meaning intertwine and overlap to the point that truth and fiction become indistinguishable, revealing every aspect of the story to be fiction in one way or another. In this way, multiple and conflicting truths are able to coexist without needing to be reconciled. Every character and the backstory to go along with them has pieces of stories that are true and pieces of stories that are blatant lies, which begs several questions: when is it helpful and when is it harmful to believe the lie despite knowing the truth? What is the cost of living a constant deception? Is it ever possible to live in the truth when there are so many different truths? Perhaps the only way to maintain sanity and integrity in such a convoluted mess is to remain true to your own self and your own story, as Campbell does. Written with classic Vonnegut wit, “Mother Night” is told with the sting, hilarity, and incisive point-making of his best satire.

I enjoyed this story. In some of his works, I feel Vonnegut writes with excessive satire to the detriment of his content, but I felt this book had an appropriate and highly entertaining level of satire. The story jumps around a lot and can be difficult to keep track of if you don’t pay attention while reading, so it does require some degree of focus. Overall, I would say this is one of the better novels from Vonnegut. Quick and easy to read, worth the time it takes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading

Caged Eyes

Caged Eyes: An Air Force Cadet’s Story of Rape and Resilience – Lynn K. Hall

As a young girl with big dreams, Lynn Hall set her sights on the stars. She steadfastly pursued her goal of becoming an astronaut, holding herself to incredibly high academic goals, maintaining physical fitness, and becoming thoroughly involved in the local arm of the Civil Air Patrol all in preparation for her application to the Air Force Academy. Nothing would prevent her from becoming an Air Force pilot, not even when her flight instructor began molesting and sexually assaulting her. When she did eventually arrive at the legendary Academy, she felt she had finally escaped a difficult past and found a world of opportunities. In addition to dealing with all the typical transitions from high school to college, Lynn also faced grueling physical training, intentionally demeaning behavior from upperclassman, and blatant sexism. When seeking to reestablish a sense of independence and passion, Lynn met with an upperclassman to learn more about additional flight opportunities. When he raped her, she was not only betrayed by this student, but also by the doctors from whom she sought care, the community she had worked so hard to become part of, and the institution she had revered since childhood. She became infected with herpes, which turned into viral meningitis and ultimately untreated encephalitis, leaving her with a chronic headache and a multitude of difficulties. Despite struggling through another year of cadet training, Lynn was eventually deemed incapable of becoming a pilot due to medical complications, and she began reassembling her life piece by piece in pursuit of healing herself and helping others.

“Caged Eyes” by Lynn K. Hall is the kind of story that hits you like the shock of jumping into freezing water. You know what’s coming, and you know the eventual outcome, but that foresight does nothing to lessen the impact. Unapologetic and unrelenting, Hall recounts her story of rape and sexual assault with straightforward candor. She is not apologetic for naming the harm caused to her by the people, professionals and institutions that she turned to for help and support, and neither is she apologetic for the discomfort caused by sharing her story publicly. Hall’s own experience is not exempt from this direct tone, and she discloses the shame, guilt, and emotional turmoil she felt at each encounter and each betrayal. Her self-awareness and insight into her own thought processes and emotional responses humanize and personalize her experience of sexual violence within a military institution. Although her story consists of unbelievable pain and suffering, it is simultaneously steeped in optimism and hope. Even when faced with insurmountable obstacles, Hall invariably returns to her belief in her ability to survive, thrive, and achieve great things.

Wow. It’s hard to find the exact right words to describe this book, but it is certainly a must-read. On the condition that you have strong support networks that are easily accessible, and possibly some distractions lined up to take your mind off the unbelievable mistreatment and neglect Hall endured at the hands of the people and institutions she trusted. Heartwrenching and heartfelt, this book will move you in all directions at the same time. Do what you can to prepare yourself, but there is nothing you can do to lessen the shock of her story.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading