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Mother Night [Kindle Edition]

Kurt Vonnegut
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Best known now by the 1996 Nick Nolte film of the same title, Mother Night (1961) is a dazzling narrative of false, shifting identity. The story tells of the odyssey of Howard Campbell, Jr., the book's protagonist, and is a paradigm of shifting loyalties, ambiguous commitment, and tales of personal compromise. Campbell is an American emigre in Germany at the time of Hitler's ascension; he is married to a German, his relations with the Nazi regime are excellent, and he agrees to spy for them and to become a broadcaster for the regime; but then, increasingly disaffected, Campbell becomes a double agent, then perhaps a triple agent, sending coded messages to the Allies.

After the War, he is tried for war crimes but is exonerated. The novel is written in memoir format from the point of view of the exiled Campbell, who, indifferent to outcome, plots suicide.

Here is a moral tale without a moral, or perhaps, according to Vonnegut, a tale with several morals. Vonnegut, a science fiction writer in his early career, knew the science fiction community very well, and it is more or less accepted that the conflicted and indecipherable Howard Campbell is modeled upon John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971), the great editor of Astounding and Analog whose decades long rightward drift led him to endorse George Wallace in 1968.


Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is one of the most beloved American writers of the twentieth century. Vonnegut's audience increased steadily since his first five pieces in the 1950s and grew from there. His 1968 novel Slaughterhouse-Five has become a canonic war novel with Joseph Heller's Catch-22 to form the truest and darkest of what came from World War II.

Vonnegut began his career as a science fiction writer, and his early novels--Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan--were categorized as such even as they appealed to an audience far beyond the reach of the category. In the 1960s, Vonnegut became closely associated with the Baby Boomer generation, a writer on that side, so to speak.

Now that Vonnegut's work has been studied as a large body of work, it has been more deeply understood and unified. There is a consistency to his satirical insight, humor and anger which makes his work so synergistic. It seems clear that the more of Vonnegut's work you read, the more it resonates and the more you wish to read. Scholars believe that Vonnegut's reputation (like Mark Twain's) will grow steadily through the decades as his work continues to increase in relevance and new connections are formed, new insights made.


Author Kurt Vonnegut is considered by most to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His books Slaughterhouse-Five (named after Vonnegut's World War II POW experience) and Cat's Cradle are considered among his top works. RosettaBooks offers here a complete range of Vonnegut's work, including his first novel (Player Piano, 1952) for readers familiar with Vonnegut's work as well as newcomers.

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"Vonnegut's chilling early masterpiece" (Observer)

"Mother Night is not one of his most famous books, but it's one of the best" (Washington Post)

"A brilliant wacky ideas-monger" (Observer)

"One of the best living American writers" (Graham Greene)

"A cool writer, at once throwaway and passionate and very funny" (Financial Times)

Book Description

A diabolically funny and macabre novel by the brilliantly wacky Kurt Vonnegut

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 949 KB
  • Print Length: 290 pages
  • Publisher: RosettaBooks (21 Aug. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005IHWB5C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #16,216 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Kurt Vonnegut was a writer, lecturer and painter. He was born in Indianapolis in 1922 and studied biochemistry at Cornell University. During WWII, as a prisoner of war in Germany, he witnessed the destruction of Dresden by Allied bombers, an experience which inspired Slaughterhouse Five. First published in 1950, he went on to write fourteen novels, four plays, and three short story collections, in addition to countless works of short fiction and nonfiction. He died in 2007.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
To the best of my knowledge, there really is no other writer quite like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Mother Night appears to be a rather straightforward, albeit quirky, novel at first glance, but as one delves down into the heart of Vonnegut's prose one finds grounds for contemplation of some of life's most serious issues. This novel is the first-hand account of Howard Campbell, Jr., a most remarkable character. Campbell is an American-born citizen who moved to Germany as a child and became the English-speaking radio mouthpiece for Nazi Germany during World War II. In the fifteen years since the end of the war, he has been living an almost invisible life in a New York City attic apartment. He misses his German wife Helga who died in the war, sometimes thinks about his pre-war life as a successful writer of plays and poems, and perhaps just waits for history to find him once again. As we begin the novel, he has been found and is writing this account from a jail cell in Israel, awaiting trial for his crimes against humanity. While he is reviled by almost everyone on earth as an American Nazi traitor, the truth is that he was actually an agent working for the American government during the war; this is a truth he cannot prove, though. Thus, in this 1961 novel, the hero is ostensibly a Nazi war criminal.
The primary moral of Mother Night, Vonnegut tells us in his introduction, is that "we are what we pretend to be" and should thus be pretty darned careful about what we are pretending to be (a secondary moral being the less enlightening statement "when you're dead, you're dead"). In the eyes of the entire world, Campbell is exactly what he pretended to be during the war, a traitorous Nazi purveyor of propaganda who mocked and demoralized allied troops as well as regular citizens.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
For quite a while I had been planning on reading some of Vonnegut's books, but I kept forgetting and grabbing other things from my TBR list. But when a month back I saw the author interviewed in two of my favorite shows regarding his new book "A man without a country", I was once more enticed to follow-up on the idea of reading his works.

It seemed to me that "Mother Night" was a good place to start as any, even though most people's starting point would probably be "Slaughterhouse Five", which I will hopefully get around to reading soon. In "Mother Night", Vonnegut presents us with an extremely interesting setting, which contains a whole array of "gray situations", since Howard W. Campbell, Jr. tells his story as an American spy working in the German publicity machine during World War II. What makes the case even more interesting is that the narrator is not really clear regarding the events that developed during that period. Logically, one would expect Howard to say he hated what he had to do in order to support the US, but in fact we are faced with a scenario that allows for a lot more ambiguity than that. And even though, I have only read this novel by this author so far, I believe that this is one of his most salient characteristics.

Besides the interesting storyline, I was pleasantly impressed by the author's writing style, using short chapters that are somewhat linked in their main topics, but that are not completely linear. This reminds me of the work of one of my favorite Latin American authors, Eduardo Galeano, who uses a similar approach to writing. If you are interested in reading about the history Latin America and like Vonnegut's style, I highly recommend Galeano's non-fiction book "The Open Veins of Latin America".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important novel 24 Nov. 1999
By A Customer
Already in his foreword, the author offers us trenchant insights into the human soul. He summarizes the book thusly: "We are what we appear to be, and we must therefore ne very careful of what we appear to be." A wonderful, wonderful story follows, about an expatriate American living in Berlin during the onset of World War II. He is persuaded to assume the role of Nazi radio propagandist, in secrecy transmitting vital information to the resistance movement. The moral dilemma this book raises is not to be ignored, and I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am that some idiot slapped Nick Nolte down with the Low-Budget-Script-From-Hell in an attempt to capture this story onscreen. In short: the book is marvellous, the film is excrement. Beware.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly dark postmodern satire 10 Mar. 2001
By A Customer
Vonnegut's metafictional memoir of Howard W Campbell Jr - American Nazi, American spy, American villain and American hero in one brilliantly blurs the line between right and wrong, history and fiction and fiction and reality through dark, biting, postmodern satire. Ranks easily alongside his 'Slaughterhouse 5' (I actually enjoyed it slightly more) as a treatise against war.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp, Witty, Concise, Perfect 9 Jun. 2014
I was shocked to find, having loved every page-turning minute of this book, that Mother Night was only Kurt Vonnegut's third novel. An amazingly compact and concise telling of a story that other authors may make 500 page + doorstops from is told nonetheless completely in just a short volume packed with all the brilliant pace and wickedly sharp wit that is to be expected from Mr Vonnegut.

The novel is a sparse yet original story line that - despite the seemingly far-fetched nature of it's plot - remains grounded in a distinct reality, making use of numerous literary devices as it romps through to its conclusion, shot through with gallows humour.

A cracking little book and one which I will wholeheartedly be recommending at every opportunity.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The most fantastic and touching spy story ever.
My favorite book from my favorite author
Published 3 months ago by Zsigmond Joakim Bujtor
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 5 months ago by Dr. Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Vonnegut
I haven't read a Vonnegut novel in years before Mother Night ( I think Breakfast of champions was my last) so it's easy to forget how great a writer he was. Read more
Published 21 months ago by S.R.H
5.0 out of 5 stars A time to reflect
American authors are quite unexpectedly unusual. Vonnegut is of that group. Read it and form your own opinions. Read more
Published 23 months ago by k wetton
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
I'd not read Vonnegut before I saw Breakfast for Champions on the Daily Deal. I read a couple of pages and just knew that I wanted to read a whole load of Vonnegut.
Published on 28 Jan. 2013 by C. Rigby-wharton
5.0 out of 5 stars True genius
When I bought my Kindle, there were a couple of books I promised myself I would read again forty years after the first time I had come across them. Read more
Published on 3 Jan. 2013 by cj
5.0 out of 5 stars Propaganda? Not as we know it.
Vonnegut is a brilliant writer who never fails to deliver. This novel avoids the Science Fiction found in Slaughterhouse 5 and Sirens of Titan, and instead follows the life of... Read more
Published on 25 Sept. 2012 by Craig Hall
5.0 out of 5 stars Something everyone should read
A truly fascinating novel that really stays with you. This book explores heroes, villains, good and evil but most of all human nature. Read more
Published on 24 April 2012 by Mrs. Z. F. Khan
4.0 out of 5 stars very good
Classic vonnegut, yet is extremely complicated and sometimes hard to follow. Not a book for people who want a plain and simple story as this book will be wasting your time. Read more
Published on 29 Mar. 2012 by cazza123
5.0 out of 5 stars One of his best
I've read quite a few Vonneguts now and I have to recommend this one as one of his best. It follows the plight of Howard W. Read more
Published on 13 Mar. 2012 by James
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