Read it once, and it’s a comedy. Read it again, and it’s an utter tragedy. Either way, Vonnegut’s third novel is the only one with a clear moral message: “we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” The plot focuses on an ex-Nazi propagandist and playwright who can’t escape his guilty past. It’s Vonnegut’s first attempt to confront the traumas of the twentieth century, and it’s utterly chilling in its depictions of homegrown fascists and the totalitarian mind. Double agents, conspiracy theories, and moral ambiguities abound, but this novel also includes some of Vonnegut’s most tender writing about love and showcases his knack for finding innocence and sweetness in the most horrific circumstances. More than any other novel on the Vonnegut bookshelf, this one seems written for contemporary times.

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