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Jailbird (English Edition) [Format Kindle]

Kurt Vonnegut

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Descriptions du produit



Yes--Kilgore Trout is back again. He could not make it on the outside. That is no disgrace. A lot of good people can't make it on the outside.

I received a letter this morning (November 16, 1978) from a young stranger named John Figler, of Crown Point, Indiana. Crown Point is notorious for a jailbreak there by the bank robber John Dillinger, during the depths of the Great Depression. Dillinger escaped by threatening his jailor with a pistol made of soap and shoe polish. His jailor was a woman. God rest his soul, and her soul, too. Dillinger was the Robin Hood of my early youth. He is buried near my parents--and near my sister Alice, who admired him even more than I did--in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. Also in there, on the top of Crown Hill, the highest point in the city, is James Whitcomb Riley, "The Hoosier Poet." When my mother was little, she knew Riley well.

Dillinger was summarily executed by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was shot down in a public place, although he was not trying to escape or resist arrest. So there is nothing recent in my lack of respect for the F.B.I.

John Figler is a law-abiding high-school student. He says in his letter that he has read almost everything of mine and is now prepared to state the single idea that lies at the core of my life's work so far. The words are his: "Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail."

This seems true to me--and complete. So I am now in the abashed condition, five days after my fifty-sixth birthday, of realizing that I needn't have bothered to write several books. A seven-word telegram would have done the job.


But young Figler's insight reached me too late. I had nearly finished another book--this one.

In it is a minor character, "Kenneth Whistler," inspired by an Indianapolis man of my father's generation. The inspirer's name was Powers Hapgood (1900-1949). He is sometimes mentioned in histories of American labor for his deeds of derring-do in strikes and at the protests about the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, and so on.

I met him only once. I had lunch with him and Father and my Uncle Alex, my father's younger brother, in Stegemeier's Restaurant in downtown Indianapolis after I came home from the European part of World War Two. That was in July of 1945. The first atomic bomb had not yet been dropped on Japan. That would happen in about a month. Imagine that.

I was twenty-two and still in uniform--a private first class who had flunked out of Cornell University as a student of chemistry before going to war. My prospects did not look good. There was no family business to go into. My father's architecture firm was defunct. He was broke. I had just gotten engaged to be married anyway, thinking, "Who but a wife would sleep with me?"

My mother, as I have said ad nauseam in other books, had declined to go on living, since she could no longer be what she had been at the time of her marriage--one of the richest women in town.

It was Uncle Alex who had arranged the lunch. He and Powers Hapgood had been at Harvard together. Harvard is all through this book, although I myself never went there. I have since taught there, briefly and without distinction--while my own home was going to pieces.

I confided that to one of my students--that my home was going to pieces.

To which he made this reply: "It shows."

Uncle Alex was so conservative politically that I do not think he would have eaten lunch with Hapgood gladly if Hapgood had not been a fellow Harvard man. Hapgood was then a labor union officer, a vice-president of the local CIO. His wife Mary had been the Socialist Party's candidate for vice-president of the United States again and again.

In fact, the first time I voted in a national election I voted for Norman Thomas and Mary Hapgood, not even knowing that she was an Indianapolis person. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman won. I imagined that I was a socialist. I believed that socialism would be good for the common man. As a private first class in the infantry, I was surely a common man.

The meeting with Hapgood came about because I had told Uncle Alex that I might try to get a job with a labor union after the Army let me go. Unions were admirable instruments for extorting something like economic justice from employers then.

Uncle Alex must have thought something like this: "God help us. Against stupidity even the gods contend in vain. Well--at least there is a Harvard man with whom he can discuss this ridiculous dream."

(It was Schiller who first said that about stupidity and the gods. This was Nietzsche's reply: "Against boredom even the gods contend in vain.")

So Uncle Alex and I sat down at a front table in Stegemeier's and ordered beers and waited for Father and Hapgood to arrive. They would be coming separately. If they had come together, they would have had nothing to say to each other on the way. Father by then had lost all interest in politics and history and economics and such things. He had taken to saying that people talked too much. Sensations meant more to him than ideas--especially the feel of natural materials at his fingertips. When he was dying about twenty years later, he would say that he wished he had been a potter, making mud pies all day long.

To me that was sad--because he was so well-educated. It seemed to me that he was throwing his knowledge and intelligence away, just as a retreating soldier might throw away his rifle and pack.

Other people found it beautiful. He was a much-beloved man in the city, with wonderfully talented hands. He was invariably courteous and innocent. To him all craftsmen were saints, no matter how mean or stupid they might really be.

Uncle Alex, by the way, could do nothing with his hands. Neither could my mother. She could not even cook a breakfast or sew on a button.

Powers Hapgood could mine coal. That's what he did after he graduated from Harvard, when his classmates were taking jobs in family businesses and brokerages and banks and so on: He mined coal. He believed that a true friend of the working people should be a worker himself--and a good one, too.

So I have to say that my father, when I got to know him, when I myself was something like an adult, was a good man in full retreat from life. My mother had already surrendered and vanished from our table of organization. So an air of defeat has always been a companion of mine. So I have always been enchanted by brave veterans like Powers Hapgood, and some others, who were still eager for information of what was really going on, who were still full of ideas of how victory might yet be snatched from the jaws of defeat. "If I am going to go on living," I have thought, "I had better follow them."

I tried to write a story about a reunion between my father and myself in heaven one time. An early draft of this book in fact began that way. I hoped in the story to become a really good friend of his. But the story turned out perversely, as stories about real people we have known often do. It seemed that in heaven people could be any age they liked, just so long as they had experienced that age on Earth. Thus, John D. Rockefeller, for example, the founder of Standard Oil, could be any age up to ninety-eight. King Tut could be any age up to nineteen, and so on. As author of the story, I was dismayed that my father in heaven chose to be only nine years old.

I myself had chosen to be forty-four--respectable, but still quite sexy, too. My dismay with Father turned to embarrassment and anger. He was lemur-like as a nine-year-old, all eyes and hands. He had an endless supply of pencils and pads, and was forever tagging after me, drawing pictures of simply everything and insisting that I admire them when they were done. New acquaintances would sometimes ask me who that strange little boy was, and I would have to reply truthfully, since it was impossible to lie in heaven, "It's my father."

Bullies liked to torment him, since he was not like other children. He did not enjoy children's talk and children's games. Bullies would chase him and catch him and take off his pants and underpants and throw them down the mouth of hell. The mouth of hell looked like a sort of wishing well, but without a bucket and windlass. You could lean over its rim and hear ever so faintly the screams of Hitler and Nero and Salome and Judas and people like that far, far below. I could imagine Hitler, already experiencing maximum agony, periodically finding his head draped with my father's underpants.

Whenever Father had his pants stolen, he would come running to me, purple with rage. As like as not, I had just made some new friends and was impressing them with my urbanity--and there my father would be, bawling bloody murder and with his little pecker waving in the breeze.

I complained to my mother about him, but she said she knew nothing about him, or about me, either, since she was only sixteen. So I was stuck with him, and all I could do was yell at him from time to time, "For the love of God, Father, won't you please grow up!"

And so on. It insisted on being a very unfriendly story, so I quit writing it.

And now, in July of 1945, Father came into Stegemeier's Restaurant, still very much alive. He was about the age that I am now, a widower with no interest in ever being married again and with no evident wish for a lover of any kind. He had a mustache like the one I have today. I was clean-shaven then.

A terrible ordeal was ending--a planetary economic collapse followed by a planetary war. Fighting men were starting to come home everywhere. You might think that Father would comment on that, however fleetingly, and on the new era that was being born. He did not.

He told instead, and perfectly charmingly, about an adventure he had had that morning. While driving into the city, he had seen an old house being torn down. He had stopped and taken a closer look at its skeleton. He noticed that the sill under the front door was an unusual wood, which he finally decided was poplar. I gathered that it was about eight inches square and four feet long. He admired it so much that the wreckers gave it to him. He borrowed a hammer from one of them and pulled out all the nails he could see.

Then he took it to a sawmill--to have it ripped into boards. He would decide later what to do with the boards. Mostly, he wanted to see the grain in this unusual wood. He had to promise the mill that there were no nails left in the timber. This he did. But there was still a nail in there. It had lost its head, and so was invisible. There was an earsplitting shriek from the circular saw when it hit the nail. Smoke came from the belt that was trying to spin the stalled saw.

Now Father had to pay for a new sawblade and a new belt, too, and had been told never to come there with used lumber again. He was delighted somehow. The story was a sort of fairy tale, with a moral in it for everyone.

Uncle Alex and I had no very vivid response to the story. Like all of Father's stories, it was as neatly package and self-contained as an egg.

So we ordered more beers. Uncle Alex would later become a cofounder of the Indianapolis chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, although his wife would say often and pointedly that he himself had never been an alcoholic. He began to talk now about The Columbia Conserve Company, a cannery that Powers Hapgood's father, William, also a Harvard man, had founded in Indianapolis in 1903. It was a famous experiment in industrial democracy, but I had never heard of it before. There was a lot that I had never heard of before.

The Columbia Conserve Company made tomato soup and chili and catsup, and some other things. It was massively dependent on tomatoes. The company did not make a profit until 1916. As soon as it made one, though, Powers Hapgood's father began to give his employees some of the benefits he thought workers everywhere in the world were naturally entitled to. The other principal stockholders were his two brothers, also Harvard men--and they agreed with him.

So he set up a council of seven workers, who were to recommend to the board of directors what the wages and working conditions should be. The board, without any prodding from anybody, had already declared that there would no longer be any seasonal layoffs, even in such a seasonal industry, and that there would be vacations with pay, and that medical care for workers and their dependents would be free, and that there would be sick pay and a retirement plan, and that the ultimate goal of the company was that, through a stock-bonus plan, it become the property of the workers.

"It went bust," said Uncle Alex, with a certain grim, Darwinian satisfaction.

My father said nothing. He may not have been listening.

Revue de presse

"As provoking, as amusing and as silver-tongued as anything Vonnegut has written" (New Statesman)

"Jailbird has the crackle and snap of Vonnegut's early work - his best since Cat's Cradle. Using the laid-back, ironic voice that has become his stademark, Vonnegut combines fiction and fact to construct an ingenious, wry morality play" (Newsweek)

"An overtly political novel attacking McCarthyism and Watergate" (Daily Telegraph)

"After Vonnegut, everything else seems a bit tame" (Spectator)

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1165 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 322 pages
  • Editeur : RosettaBooks (21 août 2011)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B005IHWAN0
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
  • X-Ray :
  • Word Wise: Activé
  • Composition améliorée: Activé
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°507.450 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  99 commentaires
40 internautes sur 40 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 poignant portrait of fallen bureaucrat 2 avril 1999
Par moroe(wrowe@epix.net) - Publié sur Amazon.com
Definitely the best of Vonnegut's novels that I've read, Jailbird is the story of Walter F. Starbuck, the smallest co-conspirator in the Watergate scandal. Having made his loyalties the best as he could, Walter finds himself in prison for withholding evidence against Nixon, even though he really had no true connection to him or respect from his fellow conspriators. After prison, Walter falls once again, committing a crime that mirrors his Watergate involvement in quite a few ways, and he goes to jail for the second time.
Vonnegut's ingenious humor is present always in the book, and his prose is bedazzlingly perfect for the subject. Even though the novel may seem sentimental at times, that seems to be Vonnegut's purpose: his character is a sentimental man and bureaucrat. Readers should note that Vonnegut also uses some symbolism to perfect effect, making the book subtler than most Vonnegut novels. All these elements are Vonnegut at his best; he recreates, hilariously and perfectly, the political world of modern times.
Throughout the story, Jailbird provides a pitiful hero, knocked down over and over again by his own fault in the bureaucratic world he has chosen for his home. It seems not so much the facelessness of the bureacratic system that destroys Walter(a theme visited over and over again in too many books, movies, etc.) as his own attempts to try and become part of that system and his emotional view of this world as a place where people are always considerate; his own desire to be a successful, protected, and respected man is the thing that makes him loyal and willing for all the wrong reasons and to the wrong people. In the end, Walter F. Starbuck is a victim of himself, a "jailbird."
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 a comic Kafka for the end of the century 25 décembre 2000
Par Marco Polo - Publié sur Amazon.com
I enjoyed the 3 Kurt Vonnegut works I've read so far. This one cruises and rollicks along as well as any. The jokes, the unbelievable coincidences, and the compassionate fury at man's inhumanity to man, both the premeditated kind and that resulting from sheer stupidity and carelessness. The nasty and the rich and powerful get even nastier and richer and more powerful, while the innocent go to jail, and the idealists go out of their minds. The twists and turns of the plot keep you turning the page. As the best fiction often does, this novel tells human and societal truths better than a factional account. The main character, Walter F. Starbuck, is sponsored by an eccentric millionaire who stuttered and was universally despised - his stammer started after witnessing a massacre of workers in front of his father's factory. Moral: the sensitive man cannot protest, only stutter, and is looked on as a fool by all; is that not the way of the world? Grown-up, Starbuck becomes a socialist and joins the communist party, like thousands of others during the Depression era: what could be more natural? A few years later, being a communist becomes a crime against humanity, and Starbuck is interviewed by the commission. Unable to take this persecution of good intentions and high ideals seriously, Starbuck flippantly announces that a famous patriot was also a communist in those days, as were so many others. This offhand remark sends the patriot to jail and ruins his life, a fact which haunts Starbuck till the end of the story.
The story is full of ironic symbolism and is almost a comic allegory in its treatment of contemporary American society. High humanistic ideals and compassion become a crime; those guilty of it are prosecuted with fury. Starbuck's foolishness causes a man's ruin, but rather than rail against society for this, Starbuck is racked with guilt, undiluted by his own imprisonment years later due to Watergate (tho Starbuck's role in it is never explained and Vonnegut has a ball playing with Starbuck's tenuous connection with Nixon: his entire employment in the administration is in a basement office that no-one visits and hardly anyone knows about; Starbuck's reports (on "youth", a subject Starbuck knows little about) are accepted but never commented on in any way.
Vonnegut - a comic Kafka for the end of the century.
12 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Reading Jailbird is not a bad sentence 2 février 2006
Par Beth S. - Publié sur Amazon.com
Vonnegut writes another book with a slightly offbeat structure to it. Yes, Jailbird is a book that jumps from the present to the past and then to the future without a definite pattern that reminded me of a slightly demented stream of consciousness. Even with these random jumps between events I still thoroughly enjoyed the book. In fact, the random jumps were part of the reason I enjoyed the novel so much because at the end of the story all of the stories finally came together.

Obviously I had a few other reasons that made me give this book a rating of four stars. One of the major themes I located in Jailbird caught my interest. This theme is that when people act for themselves, ignoring money and other influences, they will be happier with the way their lives turn out. This theme was illustrated in the protagonist Walter Starbuck, who is both controlled and independent in different parts of the story.

This book immediately caught my attention because of the style in which it's written. Even though the story is written in first person it contains a disconnected tone to the whole story. Whenever major events in Walter Starbuck's life are described the description doesn't portray them as being as important as they should be. It reminded me a great deal of Slaughter House Five's "so it goes" comment whenever someone would die.

This is an interesting book for a multitude of different reasons. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of Vonnegut's offbeat writing style. Even though this story is nothing like the books I normally read for enjoyment, it was definitely worth my time.
7 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Uniquely Ironic 22 février 2001
Par George - Publié sur Amazon.com
Jailbird is a truly unique and enjoyable novel. It is the story of Walter F. Starbuck, a man whose life was intertwined through Harvard, the Great Depression, communism, World War II, the Nuremberg Trials, and Watergate. For a man to be so well connected to history, greatness or infamy would likely be concluded. Walter Starbuck attained neither. Vonnegut introduces the reader to Walter's pathetic life through a highly unusual structure. The story is told in first person from Walter's point of view, but it jumps from one part of his life to another in such a way that it nearly resembles stream of consciousness. Fortunately, it is easily read and his style is easily adapted to. Irony and humor are two constants throughout the novel. Sometimes Vonnegut uses them to make a cynical comment on the state of our society. Usually they add to the entertainment value of the novel and gain the readers interest. "The human condition in an exploding universe would not have been altered one iota if, rather than live as I have, I had done nothing but carry a rubber ice-cream cone from closet to closet," is a good representation of Vonnegut's humor. From a man with a "French-fried hand," to a harp showroom atop the Chrysler building, Jailbird is also permeated with surreal images which contribute to the dreamlike tone of the novel. I found Jailbird very intriguing and quite compelling. It is a good book for anyone who is interested in history, politics, or who enjoys cynical comedy. While the novel does center around several key political points in our nations history, Vonnegut avoids delving too deeply into personal politics and thus refrains from alienating certain readers. In Jailbird, Vonnegut uses cynical humor with a razor sharp edge to discuss social and philosophical issues. He provides a unique perspective into the most important political events of the past century, while also examining the role of the common individual in society. Jailbird is an unusual novel and definitely worth a read.
14 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 The conscientious civil servant 21 août 2004
Par A.J. - Publié sur Amazon.com
Walter F. Starbuck, the lovably pathetic hero of Kurt Vonnegut's "Jailbird," makes a potentially fascinating subject for a novel: son of immigrant servants of an eccentric wealthy man, Harvard graduate, ex-communist, well-meaning bureaucrat, squealer to the House Un-American Activities Committee, President Nixon's special advisor on youth affairs, and most recently a record company executive. Oh, and for two years following his service with Nixon he was a distinguished guest of the federal prison system for his circumstantial involvement in the Watergate scandal.

The novel is constructed almost like an autobiography in which Starbuck looks back on the vicissitudes of his life with fatalistic humor. The day that is clearest in his memory is the day he is released from his minimum-security incarceration and flies to New York to resume whatever remains of his life, and this day becomes quite momentous for him as he bumps into some old acquaintances who will change his fortunes possibly for the better.

Starbuck is a compassionate but unemotional observer of the consequences of war on both sides of the Atlantic. His wife Ruth was a Holocaust survivor whom he had saved from poverty when he met her in Nuremberg just after World War II, and his job in Nixon's administration as a youth culture watchdog was a response to the notorious gunning down of four student protesters at Kent State. Corporate encroachment on private enterprise is another theme, as Starbuck finds that the mysterious RAMJAC Corporation is acquiring everything from McDonald's to the New York Times.

"Jailbird" is not at all, as some might expect, a lampoon of Nixon's presidency, but a very general satire of the effects of governmental failure and mass corporatization on American society by the end of the transitional 1970s. This is a comical portrait of a well-educated but wishy-washy man who wanted to be a civil servant because he "believed that there could be no higher calling in a democracy than to a lifetime in government," became a communist pitying the downtrodden workers symbolized by the martyred Sacco and Vanzetti, joined a Republican administration, and eventually moved up to big business. Only in America, as they say.

Vonnegut's humor consists primarily of springing non sequiturs that shock by the nature of their contrast but whose significance becomes apparent later in the story; these can be very funny and clever at times, but after a while one longs for the subtlety of Evelyn Waugh or the erudition of Thomas Pynchon, both of which Vonnegut forgoes in his reckless attempts at meaningful absurdity. Still, "Jailbird" lacks nothing for which Vonnegut is famous; but what it does lack could have made it more than just another Vonnegut novel.
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