Thursday, April 11, 2019

Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

I've never read a Kurt Vonnegut novel before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I bought Galapagos on the recommendation of my brother. Uh...I bought it a few years ago, and it's been sitting on my bookcase. But once again, a book group spurred me on to pick it up and finally dive into a truly odd tale.

Published in 1985, Galapagos is told from the viewpoint of a ghost. Yes, a ghost. He's connected to the story through a ship that becomes, in a weird way, a modern Noah's Ark. Oh, and the story is told from a million years in the future.

It's A.D. 1986, and an apocalypse is brewing all over the world. A group of guests have gathered at the El Dorado Hotel in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. These guests are all bound for a trip to the Galapagos Islands for a spectacular cruise aboard the Bahia de Darwin. Little do they all know that in the space of a few short hours, two will be dead, one will be dying, and a new human race will come down to one man, a high school science teacher, and six indigenous young girls. Oh--and there's a woman who will give birth to a furry baby girl on the island that becomes ground zero for the new human race. 

It sounds pretty goofy, and it is-but there is a point to all of it. Vonnegut talks about the "big brains" that humans have in 1986, and how much trouble they are; humans are only concerned with food, shelter, and money. If they are successful, their brains keep them from ever thinking about life without food, money, and shelter. Being oblivious to need, they don't realize there are people in the world who don't have one, two, or all three of those things. Blinded by money and a full stomach, they just don't see the signs of impending doom as economies collapse, people riot, and those with happy trigger fingers declare war on each other and start unloading nuclear bombs. 

The story travels back and forth between 1986 and a million years into the future, when humans aren't really human anymore--rather, they've evolved back into fishy-type things that have smaller brains, fins, and hit their peak at age six. Utter nonsense, right? It was actually quite fun to read. Timing, slight adjustments in plans, and plain old dumb luck (or not) all play a part in the survival of the human race. Adapt, adjust, survive, until a shark eats you and you go into the blue wiggly after-life tube that everyone enters when they die. Is the human race even human a million years from now? What does it mean to be a human, after all?

This was definitely not at all what I usually read, but I'm glad I finally dipped my toe into the writing of Kurt Vonnegut. I will be interested in reading more of his novels. He's funny, thoughtful, pointed, and writes a story that kept me involved-even when I knew the ending (because he keeps telling it to you all throughout the book!). 

I don't think I'll ever think of Darwin quite the same again. 

Rating: 4/6 for an odd novel, for sure. But it's funny, in a very pointed way, about the obsessions we have that are really not worth much, and usually keep us from paying attention to what's really going on. I would love to discuss this novel with one of my reading friends, so I'll be nagging someone to read it soon! Interesting characters, a truly imaginative plot and plenty of moments where I laughed out loud. 

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

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