the Little Red Reviewer

Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut

Posted on: April 3, 2015

vonnegut galapagosGalapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut

Published in 1985

where I got it: purchased new

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Galapagos was the first Vonnegut title I read. I must have been around twenty or twenty one at the time. I’d never been into American literature as a student, our required reading in high school never included Vonnegut, so what possessed me to get their weird book out of the library? Timing.

It must have been right around the year 2000. I was right in the middle of my college career, and I’d realized that while I enjoyed my classes and respected my instructors, that I had zero love my for major and was at peace that I was never, ever, going to be a drafter, designer, or engineer for a living. That kind of peace brought, well, peace. In 1998, the song “Free to wear sunscreen” came out, and was on heavy rotation on the radio, and it was rumored that the speech had been written by Kurt Vonnegut. His was a name people mentioned, sometimes in awe, sometimes with disdain. My high school English teachers mentioned his name, but didn’t encourage us to read him. Were we too young? Was it something else?

So, now that I had time, and mental energy, it was a great discovery to learn that the local library owned a stack of Vonneguts. Why did I choose Galapagos? Maybe because it had a neat cover. Maybe it was the first Vonnegut on the shelf that day. Who knows.

 

What a mental mind fuck that book was! It wasn’t told chronologically, you’re told in the first chapter who is going to die later, and the narrator is a ghost who never actually explains anything. I didn’t understand a word of it. It was absurd and surreal, and I loved it. It was a new taste that I suddenly couldn’t get enough of. Over the next 4 years, I would read every Vonnegut the library owned (which turned out to be not that many), fall in love with Cat’s Cradle, and start collecting used copies of Vonnegut titles. Yes, I could have purchased them brand new and owned a collection instantly, but this kind of thing is about the journey, you know?

What a joyous comfort to return to Galapagos after fifteen or so years. It’s still a mental mind fuck in the best possible way. It’s still absurd and surreal and bizarre, albeit now with an intense umami of social commentary that I’m finally mature enough to appreciate. The book held up beautifully and timelessly. Most Vonnegut work has a timeless feel to it.

 

Told from the point of view of the ghost Leon Trout (son of Kilgore Trout), Galapagos is the story of the end of humanity as we know it, and how through evolution and natural selection we survived our own destruction. Leon has watched everything unfold over the last million years. What he’s telling us are his memories, filtered through a million years of watching humanity struggle, survive, change, and become something completely new. Leon doesn’t tell his story in any kind of chronological order, it’s as if he believes the reader already knows everything that’s happened, so why not tell it as random anecdotes?

 

The luxury cruise ship Bahia de Darwin, will take less than a dozen people on her maiden voyage. This small but mighty passenger list includes a widowed teacher, a computer genius and his very pregnant wife, a con artist, a wealthy business owner and his blind daughter, and the blind daughter’s guide dog. By the time the ill-fated ship crashes into an island, permanantly marooning the passengers, the manifest is now the Captain of the ship, the widowed teacher, the pregnant woman, the blind daughter, and a half dozen orphaned and homeless children. Assuming they will be rescued, they survive as best they can. When they realize they will never be rescued, there are attempts to breed as much as possible, to keep the human race alive. Evolutionary biology has already taken it’s toll, humanity is being changed into something “fit” that can survive. What would help creatures marooned on an island survive? The ability to better digest tough seaweed and raw fish, perhaps. The loss of human traits such as greed an ambition, perhaps. Leon watches all this happen.

 

While reading, I couldn’t help but compare Galapagos to my favorite Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle. They both take place on an island, they both take place during an apocolypse of sorts, they both include a character (of sorts) who communicates in quotes, rhymes, and poetry (of sorts). Cat’s Cradle is a story that leads up to an apocalpyse, where as Galapagos tells the story leading up to and the story of the far future, with very little touching on the actual moments of apocalypse.

 

Like all Vonnegut novels, Galapagos is easy on the eyes. This isn’t an author who tries to show off his vocabulary or experiment with unusual styles of prose. Vonnegut was a newspaperman. He knew how say the most with the least amount of words.

 

What’s the social commentary in Galapagos? Basically that humans are short sighted, greedy, and worried about the wrong things, and the forces of evolution care not one whit for greed, worry, or short sightedness. Evolution will turn a species into what is needed to survive, not what the species wants or things they want. In a million years, nothing we do or say today will matter. How much money you made, how big your house was, how many people you were able to con out of money, how much you loved your spouse, how well you raised your children, what wars you fought in. None of it will matter. And if it surely won’t matter in a million years, will it matter in a thousand years? How about a hundred, or fify, or even five? Speaking with the voice of Vonnegut himself, Leon Trout takes a darkly humorous view of the whole situation. Leon is a great character, it was fun to see how he got involved in all of this himself, and how and why he’s managed to watch over humanity for a million years.

 

Galapagos is nowhere near Vonnegut’s best work, but reading this book triggered me to seek out more of his work. This was my first taste of satire, absurdism, surrealism (or at least what I view as surreal and absurd), and non-chronological storytelling. And I’ve been seeking out the absurd and surreal ever since.

 

8 Responses to "Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut"

One of the few of his books I didn’t read when I ws going through them. CAT’S CRADLE I liked a lot, also SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5, but never got to this one.

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This isn’t one of his well known titles or even one of his better ones. Everyone reads Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse 5, Mother Night, Breakfast of Champions and the like.

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Yeah, I’ve still not read any by Vonnegut – I’m very behind I’m afraid! Will I ever catch up – probably not, although I’m optimistic😀
Lynn

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Lynn! Get yourself a copy of Cat’s Cradle, like, right now! it’s a short fast read, you could probably read it over a weekend.

and i’ll never catch up either. which is a wonderful thing. We’ll never run out of what we love!

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okay, if you tell me to get the book – I will get the book. 😀

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I’ve never read Vonnegut before, but this really caught my attention. I really like how it explores evolution in society, and uses marooned on an island as the setting.
Also, I went to my local BN the other day (to get the new Lady Trent!), but when I was there I remember to look for A Bride’s Story to check out its art. Unfortunately, this location kind of has a small selection of books compared to most others, and didn’t have any in stock😦 Very disappointing.

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not to spoil anything, but if you’re interested in evolution in society on a marooned island, you’ll really want to pick up Kim Stanley Robinson’s new one, Aurora, when it becomes available.😉

Bride’s Story seems to be difficult to find. I think a lot of bookstores don’t know where to shelve it. They don’t want to put it with the teen stuff, because it’s not the type of story teens or kids would stay interested in, but they don’t want to put it with the adult graphic novels (the Darkhorse and Marvel stuff) because it doesn’t fit in with that stuff either. Your best bet may be to order it through B&N, Amazon, or a local indie bookstore. If you want to order through an indie, my local has volumes 1&2, let me know if you want their phone #, they ship all over.

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I will definitely be on that look out for that one then!
I checked for Bride’s Story in the manga section only… Maybe I should check teens section next time too (or ask the front desk for help). I wasn’t actually looking to buy the book (not yet, at least). I just wanted look at the all the art and preview it a little. If I do go to buy and can’t find it in person, I’ll send you e-mail for your local indie number. Thanks!🙂

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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