Monday, January 05, 2015

"Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut

The small Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, fictional location of the last scenes of Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle, was home of the Bokononist religion. The book parodies the features of totalitarian (or any) government as well as taking an ironic look at the relationship of religion in politics.

Cat's Cradle's narrator, who is about to become president of San Lorenzo, is served a buffet "burdened with native delicacies," which contained:
"roasted warblers in little overcoats made of their own blue-green feathers; lavender land crabs taken from their shells, minced, fried in coconut oil, and returned to their shells; fingerling barracuda stuffed with banana paste; and, on unleavened, unseasoned cornmeal wafers, bite-sized cubes of boiled albatross.  
"The albatross, I was told, had been shot from the very bartizan in which the buffet stood. 
"There were two beverages offered, both un-iced: Pepsi-Cola and native rum." (p. 227)
Cat's Cradle is the second Vonnegut book that I decided to reread this week because I loved it long ago. My memories of this book, like my memories of Slaughterhouse Five, were rather flawed, with certain highlights -- like the ritual of Bokononism which consists of two people pressing the soles of their bare feet against one another. And the final end of the world from ice nine, a substance that freezes all water at normal temperatures and thus kills everyone and everything. But I forgot lots of the intermediate details of the characters and actions in the book, and even forgot some of the ironic things about the religious leader Bokonon and the made-up associations like granfalloons.

Vonnegut is very clever, and sometimes his writing is a little over-the-top, exaggerated, too precious. Some of his quirky inventions become a little thin on second reading. I'm afraid I'm just a little less enthusiastic than I was long ago -- though I did like the irony of that buffet menu served right before the world ended. My screen-shot of the covers of the numerous editions of Cat's Cradle suggests that it has been very popular for a very long time, and I don't dispute the merits that keep it well-loved.

Anyway, I couldn't forget Bokononism because my brother once specified it on a form that asked for his religion, and a local newspaper reported the results of the survey, solemnly listing the numbers of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and so on and finally "and one Bokononist, whatever that is."

And I love the significance of the cat's cradle -- the flimsy string construction from the children's game that one of the characters in the book points out has neither a cat nor a cradle.

1 comment:

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Mae,
It's always disappointing when you look forward to rereading a book only to find it didn't have the same appeal the second time. However, I love when you reread a book and it seems better than the first! I guess it works both ways:)

That's something about the newspaper report or should I say your brother's "prank."

Thanks for sharing, Mae...