My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Cat’s Cradle is Vonnegut at his most brilliant and witty.
The book follows a writer, John/Jonah, as he does research for a book on the Hiroshima A-bomb. To learn about the (fictitious) inventor of the bomb, the deceased Felix Hoenikker, he interviews Hoenikker’s children and former supervisor. In the process he becomes entangled in global catastrophe in a way he couldn’t have imagined.
As it turns out, Hoenikker had invented another weapon of mass destruction, one that would make the H-bomb look like a firecracker. However, ice-9, as the weapon was designated, wasn’t intended as a weapon at all. Ice-9 turns all water into ice at temperatures below 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The idea was to make marshes crossable by Marine Corps units. It’s the failure to anticipate the ramifications of using such a chemical, i.e. the hydrologic cycle, that’s the central premise of this book.
A lot of the book deals with a fictitious religion called Bokononism. Bokononism is the cynical faith of the Island of San Lorenzo, and it perfectly reflects Vonnegut’s mildly misanthropic attitudes. The first sentence of the Book of Bokonon says it all, “All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.”
At the beginning of Cat’s Cradle we find out that John is a Bokononist, but that he’d grown up a Christian. Bokononism is prohibited on the island by the dictator, Papa Manzano. The reader comes to discover that not only is the prohibition a fraud designed to give the religion more sex appeal, but also that Manzano is a practitioner himself. This is just one of the quirky oddities that defines life on San Lorenzo.
It’s when John and all the Hoenikker children are assembled in San Lorenzo that the action really unfolds. Manzano is dying and turns the presidency over to Franklin Hoenikker (the non-midget son of the father of the bomb); Manzano later commits suicide in the oddest imaginable way. Franklin convinces John to take the presidency, but it becomes moot as the book approaches climax.
I’ll leave you with my favorite piece of Bokononist wisdom, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” By the way, you should go to San Felix island off the coast of Chile. [Picked via a spinning globe.]