God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut

I have never been down the long blue tunnel, but when I go, I will seek out two people: Vonnegut and Kevorkian. The first, to thank. The second, to interview endlessly of intentions and opinions. (Good for you if you got it.)

Turns out that within days of making this goal (it was either three days before or three days after), I read this book, so I’m calling it good and counting it.  So there.  Also, I’ll feel less like I’m scrambling since I’ve been too busy to do much reading lately and, well, it gets difficult to read one book a week, much less  two to get on the schedule I want to be on.  This will make book three and get me caught up until tomorrow, which happens in just a few minutes by the time I finish this review.  Oh, well.  I’m not too worried.

So far as I can tell, no one has yet written a good back-of-the-book summary to a single Vonnegut work.  So, I’ll do my best to follow in that tradition while still giving you a clue of the content.  Kurt Vonnegut, voluntary reporter on the after-life via controlled near-death experiences at the hands of Dr. Kevorkian, writes small essays on the famous and not so famous that he meets just inside and outside the pearly gates.  Some of the essays are laughter inducing.  Some of them are thought-provoking.  Some of them make you worry, and yet others make you sad.  They make up one of the dearest, most beautiful books I have ever read.

I am no Modernist, nor am I particularly Post-Modern.  Vonnegut managed to fall under both literary categories at different times in his career and I can see shades of both in this book, but they are not oppressive.  He is charming and funny, sweet and caring, angry and bitter, humanity at it’s best.   I forget that he is considered one of the truly greats in literature while reading this book, and am rather swept away on a journey getting to know some big people and some little people, every one with some important story to tell.  (By the way, get a copy with the 2010 introduction by Neil Gaiman and read it.  I’ve read it with and without.  Something about the introduction makes it infinitely better, while not changing a single thing.)

I remember the moment that I determined I would slap Thomas Jefferson the moment I saw him in the after-life.  I’ve long wanted to meet John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and dared hope that I might shake hands with Washington (though, while I might dream of having something to say to the brash Adams and the coarse Franklin, I know I’ve nothing in my repertoire for Washington), but I’ve never had much use for Jefferson.  Yes, the Declaration was a fine piece of work.   Huzzah for you, sir.  But after reading the interview with John Brown, Connecticut Yankee hanged for attempting to arm slaves, I would search Jefferson out first. For, as John so eloquently put it, “He said there was a Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, who had actually encapsulated God in only six words: ‘All men are created equal.’   [He said], ‘This perfect gentleman, sophisticated, scientific, wise … was able to write those incomparable words while owning slaves.  Tell me: Am I really the only person to realize that he, by his example, made our beautiful country an evil society from the very first, where subservience of persons of color to white people was deemed in perfect harmony with natural law?'”  Truly, this fact never made me comfortable, but it wasn’t until I read it said this way that I knew why I never had much use for Jefferson.

The interview with Hitler is a real treasure.  It, I think, is all one could hope for, were Hitler given the chance to apologise.  Were he to be too apologetic, many would call him insincere.  Were he to refuse, the whole world would be in an uproar in minutes.  But the simple, “I beg your pardon,” is a reasonable expression, a way of saying, “I can never excuse the magnitude of what I have done, but I am so very sorry.”

Possibly one of my favorite subjects addressed is the death penalty.  The victim that Kurt, the reporter, comes upon on one of his many trips down the blue tunnel puts it succinctly: “[The Governor of Texas is] a murderer, too.  He murdered me.”

These are just a few of the particular and poignant moments that stood out to me.  There are many.  When the reporter falls in love is a true gem.  Saint Peter and a balloonist arguing definitions of heaven is an adorable scene as well.  There is much to love and think about in a book so small.  It’s easily read in ninety minutes to two hours at a slow pace.  I highly recommend this reporter’s view of life from the gates of the after-life.


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