BOOK REVIEW – KURT VONNEGUT JNR – MOTHER NIGHT 1961 Fawcett Books.
A startling and very humanitarian war and post war story – a complete departure from science fiction by Vonnegut. Howard W. Campbell (his name derived from that of SF author and editor John W. Campbell) is a popular American writer living in Germany as Hitler plunges Europe into war. He plans to leave the country, but US government operative talks him into acting as a high-ranking spy. Campbell is to help write Nazi propaganda, which he himself will broadcast on the radio (in the style of the real British traitor William – Lord Haw-Haw Joyce0, but Campbell’s propaganda assertions will include coded messages for the Americans.
Campbell does his duty, oblivious that the Americans have forgot his true role. He finds himself vilified by his own people, both before and after the war.
In the late 1950’s he is driven into seclusion, and his only friends are neo-nazis who hope to start a new Reich. Campbell dare not reveal his true heartfelt love of America and freedom tot hem, and he is appalled as he learns more and more about the Holocaust.
Captured by Nazi hunters, (modeled on the work of Simon Weisenthal), Campbell is tried as a war criminal and found guilty. He awaits his conviction in an Israeli prison, where he meets Adolph Eichmann, who is proud of his work for the Fuhrer and utterly unrepentant about his own war crimes.
As the story concludes, Campbell receives a letter that promises him proof of his real role as a US counter-spy, but he destroys the evidence and takes his own life, knowing that the war crimes attributed to him deserve to be remembered as a warning to others. It’s a powerful, poetically written story, turned into an under-rated film with Nick Nolte in 1996.
Quite possibly one of the most important novels ever written.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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