Mother Night

  • by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Narrated by Victor Bevine
  • 6 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty? In this brilliant book rife with true gallows humor, Kurt Vonnegut turns black and white into a chilling shade of grey with a verdict that will haunt us all. Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Kurt Vonnegut's book, you'll also receive an exclusive Jim Atlas interview. This interview – where James Atlas interviews Gay Talese about the life and work of Kurt Vonnegut – begins as soon as the audiobook ends.

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What the Critics Say

"Vonnegut is George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer...a zany but moral mad scientist." (Time)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

“We are what we pretend to be”

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” This is one of the most often quoted of Kurt Vonnegut’s writings and one of the central themes of this selection. Because it is revealed early in the book that the main character and storyteller pretends to be the broadcaster of Nazi propaganda during WWII, it’s not much of a spoiler. It is also revealed early on that he is an agent who sends coded messages to the Americans in his broadcasts. Therein is the tension in the book between the “good” and “evil” roles the protagonist must play. And, there are layers here to the good and evil dichotomy: do the ends justify the means and how does society and history deal with those individuals who do evil things to achieve righteous goals.

This all sounds like a book that might be rather reflective and philosophical and, for some, this may turn out to but need not be the case. The book starts off simply enough and contains incidentals that are seemingly tangential but all of which interweave and come together in the end with a rather unexpected conclusion. The story is haunting from beginning to end. If you are anything like me, this is a tale that will stay with you for days after finishing it. This is simple and beautiful prose about some of the complexity of our human nature.

The book is more meta-fiction than historical fiction. While the book has been characterized as black comedy, for me the book was deadly serious. I would not even call it gallows humor. When it comes to this time and place in history, I find nothing humorous nor do I think that the author intended that. The book does not seem to purport to dramatize, with any accuracy, core events that actually happened in way of the protagonist. The historical figures, places and things relative to WWII are there but, with regard to this Nazi propagandist, spy for the U.S. around whom the whole story revolves, no such person existed.

One of the best narrators of audiobooks, Victor Bevine, reads the book literally with short bursts of “..,” he said, “..,” she said, “..,” he said” that were totally distracting. If this were not such an incredible book, I would have been totally put off by this kind of nonsense production and I cannot help but forgive this shortcoming. In fact, Mr. Bevine is a great performer of different character voices and this kind of “he said” reading was not necessary. His performance of various characters in the Hyperion Cantos is almost without peer. This must have been a decision on the part of the producer or publisher Audible Modern Vanguard but it was a decision that did not do this wonderful book justice. Strange that the word modern is in the publisher’s name. This is not the way modern audiobooks should be produced. That aside, the book is still highly recommended.

Story and Writing: 5 Stars
Narrator: 5 Stars
Decision to use He said-, She said-type of production: 0 Stars
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- Robert "Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books."

Thought Provoking

There are not many books that I have read or heard that stimulate so much deep thought and moral questioning as this title. This was apparent to me from the copious amount of notes that I took whilst listening, even exceeding the notes I took for reviewing "The Road". That is because the central character, Howard W. Campbell, is so difficult to place within one's moral compass. At times he's so redeemable and at others he is plain offensive. Most of the time he's somewhere in the middle. It's hard to like him, but I couldn't bring myself to hate him either. That normally makes for a shallow book (reflecting a shallow character), but not this time.
This was also a title that drove me to the 'Net; to research the real life counter-part of Campbell, the Lords Haw-Haw and Hee-Haw of WWII. The latter was an American christened Fred W. Kaltenbach (according to Wiki). I also looked into the Nazi propaganda machine of Herr Goebbles. I lthink this quote from Goebbles captured Campbell's elusive mediocrity and provide his moral refuge,
"The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it."
The other characters are also very interesting. Wirtanen, who enlists Campbell, is a particularly challenging character. Some of his justifications of the unjustifiable in the name of patriotism reminded me of Milo Mindbender's explanations to Yossarin (about how the Syndicate in "Catch-22" can buy for 7c and sell at 5c for a profit).
The performance of Victor Bevine was very good, too. I thought he captured the mood of the text. He drove me to get a copy of the 1996 movie (starring Nick Nolte and Sheryl Lee, the latter of "Twin Peaks" fame), which I enjoyed the more for having heard the text presented so well.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this listen. It stimulated, questioned and entertained. You can't ask for more provoking that that.
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- Ian C Robertson "Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-11-2009
  • Publisher: Audible Studios