Monday, July 16, 2012


Timequake is an event where the Universe, due to some quirk, incurs a glitch in its spacetime and decides to 'relive' ten Earth years of its existence. Ten years to be relived exactly as in the first run, by every human on Earth and elsewhere, with full knowledge of what is going on as their  accrued 'memory' cannot be undone due to the timequake. They should relive ten years, experiencing the consequences of their follies, of their mistakes and lost opportunities. But Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut is not only this. Timequake is a much maligned book, at least in the writing circle I frequent. One popular Tamil writer, while praising Timequake as a science fiction (which it could be), cited the blurb (about the ten year re-run) and mentioned the book is about the consequences of that event. Having read it, I am now convinced that Tamil writer hasn't.

Timequake is an autobiography. An autobiography can be told only as a 'timequake', a set of events that cannot be altered to suit our convenience and comfort. It has to include all the mistakes, wrong turns and consequences. Timequake is also a fiction. Fiction, as a fertile imagination of the mind of the writer (even as he plays the autobiographer in the same book), is not affected by any 'timequake'. Fiction lives many a life in the mind of the author, even as he relives his life in a timequake. Kurt Vonnegut is the autobiographer. Kilgore Trout is the writer - an alter ego of Kurt. They both recount their stories and life, through 'time quake' and before and after. They even meet, rejoice, relive as they recount. Timequake (1998) is one of the later writings of Kurt Vonnegut (passed away in 2007), is also the most moving of his books, if not the most disturbing (thankfully). The Kurt and Kilgore of Timequake did remind me of the haunting lines of Paul Simon, "Old friends, old friends, sat on their park bench like bookends.... how terribly strange to be seventy..." They do bring out that sigh but they were also uplifting.

If you are getting introduced to the writings of Kurt Vonnegut through this book, be prepared for an exasperation that should turn into fulfillment only as you finish reading the book. For veteran fans of Kurt this feeling is neither new nor artificial. I got introduced to Kurt through Breakfast of Champions, a whacky, funny and seemingly pointless collection of loosely tied up events, sometimes bizarre and sometimes poignant, narrated presumably by the same guy. After going through Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, Bagombo Snuff Box, Welcome to the Monkey House... I have come to expect the exasperation and fulfillment. Books of Kurt works at least in two layers; as individual events, funny and reflective, frivolous and poignant and as a collection with a thread of common message: we, humans, are made of this (war) and this (peace).