Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut – A Review

Warning:  Any misguided soul reading this post in anticipation of a healthy breakfast recipe or information on carbs or low fat, please be advised that this book has none of it! So, proceed with caution.

Breakfast of Champions does not boast of a great and unforgettable story. The entire plot can be written in less than 100 words. But then, no one reads Vonnegut just for the story. He is the king of satire and dark humour with a humanistic approach to writing! Vonnegut is carefree and adventurous with words and he lets them guide him into creating something which is both pleasurable and thought provoking. Apart from the main story line, Vonnegut shoots off to different tangents throughout the book. For me, these detours are what makes the book unique. With these offshoots, he tackles a wide spectrum of social issues like race, sex, politics, free will, war and pollution with irony. The writing style of this book is quite unique indeed, consisting of very short paragraphs (as short as one line) interspersed with the author’s drawings and elements of science fiction.

Breakfast of Champions features the meeting of Vonnegut’s alter-ego Kilgore Trout, a relatively unknown science fiction writer whose stories get published in adult magazines merely as gap fillers, and Dwayne Hoover, a rich Pontiac dealer. It describes the journey of Kilgore to Midland City where he is invited to participate in an art festival by his sole fan Eloit Rosewater. Dwayne, on the verge of a breakdown, reads one of Kilgore’s stories and is convinced that he is the only human with free-will and that the rest of the people are mere robots. He goes berserk and injures a lot of people in a violent rampage following which Kilgore’s theories get widely publicised thereby transforming the latter from a nobody to a great scientist and artist.

Vonnegut himself appears in the book as the author. He finds Kilgore at the end of the novel and reveals himself as the creator. To convince Kilgore of his authenticity, he transports Kilgore to many places in a span of seconds and also reveals Kilgore’s future. Yet, he failed to honour Kilgore’s only wish, which was to make him young. Similar to Tolstoy and Jefferson liberating their slaves, Vonnegut sets all his literary characters at liberty at the end of the novel.

Vonnegut uses the science fiction stories of Kilgore as a satire on humans and free will. These stories depict humans as robots who are programmed for both war and destruction, to abuse the planet, to make it poisonous and uninhabitable and to overcrowd it by making more and more babies. Throughout the book, America is criticised heavily and the author points fingers at the unhappiness of its citizens. American citizens are portrayed as “so ignored and cheated and insulted that they thought they might be in the wrong country, or even on the wrong planet, and that some terrible mistake had been made.” Everything from their national anthem (gibberish sprinkled with question marks) to its motto (E pluribus unum) is made fun of. Vonnegut is also derisive of the capitalist approach of the country towards land owning, which makes a few people own vast majority of the land. “Everybody in America was supposed to grab whatever he could and hold onto it. Some Americans were very good at grabbing and holding, were fabulously well-to-do. Others couldn’t get their hands on doodley-squat”. Kilgore even writes a story about landowners deciding to exercise their sole claims on the land which then forces others to float on the Earth’s atmosphere in helium balloons.

I am not analysing each and every theme listed or hidden in this beautiful gem of a book. It is really a short and sweet read. Every Vonnegut fan would have already read this book, if not, please pick up your copy and start reading immediately. For others who are new to Vonnegut and his chaotic writing, it might be a little hard to acclimatise to his style. If you are a fan of satire and humour, please don’t hesitate to start reading. Overall, a unique but worthwhile read!

Each and every line in this book is special and close to my heart. Nevertheless, I am picking one of them as my favourite quote.

Favourite quote: 

I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing sacred about myself or about any human being, that we were all machines, doomed to collide and collide and collide.

Favourite character:

Harry LeSabre – Harry is a transgender character who hides his identity from the society. His fears start surfacing when he feels that Dwayne Hoover knows his secret. The motivation and fears of LeSabre are that of every human being and hence, very relatable.

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