Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted to

This was my first Vonnegut, and I listened to the audiobook version, both of which I am glad about. Mother Night is a first-person memoir of an Howard Campbell, Jr., an American who, finding himself a playwright in Germany in the 1930s, is approached by an American agent to be a spy and subsequently becomes a predominant radio host for the Nazis. Eventually escaping Germany near the end of the war, Campbell must deal with the social and psychological effects of what he has done.

Told from his cell in Israel where Campbell awaits trial for crimes against humanity, the book covers questions about whether we can or should humanize monsters by hearing their story, whether espionage and acting invalidate real crimes done in the act, whether encouraging a message of murder makes one a murderer, himself, and many others. If only for these questions, the book is a worthwhile read.

Vonnegut’s handling of the subject matter is compelling and honest, and far from either setting up Campbell as a monster or white washing him, he gives us a round character at times sympathetic in his remorse. Because of this, Mother Night would be interesting to read or teach in conjunction with books like Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men.

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Author: dustinllovell

Writing professor, literature and US history tutor, previous ESL instructor, and would-be novelist who enjoys/specializes in Shakespeare, 19th century lit, and philosophy (whether in print or via audiobook). Author of the novel Sacred Shadows and Latent Light (Wipf and Stock, Resources Imprint). Member of Heterodox Academy. Columnist for The Mallard.

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