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Cat's Cradle : Popular Penguins - Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's Cradle : Popular Penguins

Paperback

Published: 29th June 2009
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Dr Felix Hoenikker, has left a deadly legacy to humanity. He is the inventor of ice-nine, a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. Writer Jonah's search for its whereabouts leads him to Hoenikker's three eccentric children, to an island republic in the Caribbean where the religion of Bokononism is practised, to love and to insanity. Told with deadpan humour and bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut's cult tale of global destruction is a funny and frightening satire on the end of the world and the madness of mankind.

Author Biography

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922. He studied at the universities of Chicago and Tennessee and later began to write short stories for magazines. His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1951 and since then he has written many novels, among them: The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat's Cradle (1963), God Bless You Mr Rosewater (1964), Welcome to the Monkey House; a collection of short stories (1968), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick, or Lonesome No More (1976), Jailbird (1979), Deadeye Dick (1982), Galapagos (1985), Bluebeard (1988) and Hocus Pocus (1990). During the Second World War he was held prisoner in Germany and was present at the bombing of Dresden, an experience which provided the setting for his most famous work to date, Slaughterhouse Five (1969). He has also published a volume of autobiography entitled Palm Sunday (1981) and a collection of essays and speeches, Fates Worse Than Death (1991).

1 The Day the World Ended

Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.

Jonah – John – if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still – not because I have been unlucky for others, but because somebody or something has compelled me to be certain places at certain times, without fail. Conveyances and motives, both conventional and bizarre, have been provided. And, according to plan, at each appointed second, at each appointed place this Jonah was there.

Listen:

When I was a younger man – two wives ago, 250,000 cigarettes ago, 3,000 quarts of booze ago...

When I was a much younger man, I began to collect material for a book to be called The Day the World Ended.

The book was to be factual.

The book was to be an account of what important Americans had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

It was to be a Christian book. I was a Christian then.

I am a Bokononist now.

I would have been a Bokononist then, if there had been anyone to teach me the bittersweet lies of Bokonon. But Bokononism was unknown beyond the gravel beaches and coral knives that ring this little island in the Caribbean Sea, the Republic of San Lorenzo.

We Bokononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon, and the instrument, the kan-kan, that brought me into my own particular karass was the book I never finished, the book to be called The Day the World Ended.

2 Nice, Nice, Very Nice

'If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons,' writes Bokonon, 'that person may be a member of your karass.'

At another point in The Books of Bokonon he tells us, 'Man created the checkerboard; God created the karass.' By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries.

It is as free-form as an amoeba.

In his 'Fifty-third Calypso' Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:

Oh, a sleeping drunkard

Up in Central Park,

And a lion-hunter

In the jungle dark,

And a Chinese dentist,

And a British queen –

All fit together

In the same machine.

Nice, nice, very nice;

Nice, nice, very nice;

Nice, nice, very nice –

So many different people

In the same device.

3 Folly

Nowhere does Bokonon warn against a person's trying to discover the limits of his karass and the nature of the work God Almighty has had it do. Bokonon simply observes that such investigations are bound to be incomplete.

In the autobiographical section of The Books of Bokonon he writes a parable on the folly of pretending to discover, to understand:

I once knew an Episcopalian lady in Newport, Rhode Island, who asked me to design and build a doghouse for her Great Dane. The lady claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly. She could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be.

And yet, when I showed her a blueprint of the doghouse I proposed to build, she said to me, 'I'm sorry, but I never could read one of those things.'

'Give it to your husband or your minister to pass on to God,' I said, 'and, when God finds a minute, I'm sure he'll explain this doghouse of mine in a way that even you can understand.'

She fired me. I shall never forget her. She believed that God liked people in sailboats much better than He liked people in motorboats. She could not bear to look at a worm. When she saw a worm, she screamed.

She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is Doing, [writes Bokonon].

4 A Tentative Tangling of Tendrils

Be that as it may, I intend in this book to include as many members of my karass as possible, and I mean to examine all strong hints as to what on Earth we, collectively, have been up to.

I do not intend that this book be a tract on behalf of Bokononism. I should like to offer a Bokononist warning about it, however. The first sentence in The Books of Bokonon is this:

'All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.'

My Bokononist warning is this:

Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.

So be it.

About my karass, then.

It surely includes the three children of Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the so-called 'Fathers' of the first atomic bomb. Dr Hoenikker himself was no doubt a member of my karass, though he was dead before my sinookas, the tendrils of my life, began to tangle with those of his children.

The first of his heirs to be touched by my sinookas was Newton Hoenikker, the youngest of his three children, the younger of his two sons. I learned from the publication of my fraternity, the Delta Upsilon Quarterly, that Newton Hoenikker, son of the Nobel Prize physicist, Felix Hoenikker, had been pledged by my chapter, the Cornell Chapter.

So I wrote this letter to Newt:

'Dear Mr Hoenikker:

'Or should I say, Dear Brother Hoenikker?

'I am a Cornell DU now making my living as a free-lance writer. I am gathering material for a book relating to the first atomic bomb. Its contents will be limited to events that took place on 6 August, 1945, the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

'Since your late father is generally recognized as having been one of the chief creators of the bomb, I would very much appreciate any anecdotes you might care to give me of life in your father's house on the day the bomb was dropped.

'I am sorry to say that I don't know as much about your illustrious family as I should, and so don't know whether you have brothers and sisters. If you do have brothers and sisters, I should like very much to have their addresses so that I can send similar requests to them.

'I realize that you were very young when the bomb was dropped, which is all to the good. My book is going to emphasize the human rather than the technical side of the bomb, so recollections of the day through the eyes of a ''Baby'', if you'll pardon the expression, would fit in perfectly.

'You don't have to worry about style and form. Leave all that to me. Just give me the bare bones of your story. 'I will, of course, submit the final version to you for your approval prior to publication.

'Fraternally yours –'

ISBN: 9780141045443
ISBN-10: 0141045442
Series: Popular Penguins
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 228
Published: 29th June 2009
Dimensions (cm): 18.3 x 11.2
Weight (kg): 18.3
Edition Number: 1