Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Kurt Vonnegut’s masterwork Slaughterhouse-Five. Part autobiographical, part science fiction, part satire, Slaughterhouse-Five was Vonnegut’s first bestseller and remains a revered literary classic of the 20th century. After the real-life Vonnegut was captured during the Battle of the Bulge, he was used as a slave laborer in Dresden by the Nazis. He survived the Allied firebombing of that city in the deep cellar of an empty slaughterhouse called Schlachthof Fünf. After the attack on February 13, 1945, Vonnegut was forced to work clearing rubble and retrieving bodies from bombed buildings.
Vonnegut struggled for years to work his experiences of the war into a novel. Eventually, by developing the sci-fi twist of becoming “unstuck in time,” he was able to put together what many consider a parable of PTSD. The hero Billy Pilgrim’s captivity in a Tralfamadorian human zoo, interspersed with withering critiques of war and dark humor, remain as chilling, funny,and heartbreaking as they were 50 years ago.