Bluebeard

( 43 )

Overview

Broad humor and bitter irony collide in this fictional autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, who, at age seventy-one, wants to be left alone on his Long Island estate with the secret he has locked inside his potato barn. But then a voluptuous young widow badgers Rabo into telling his life story—and Vonnegut in turn tells us the plain, heart-hammering truth about man’s careless fancy to create or destroy what he loves.

Broad humor and bitter irony collide in Vonnegut's ...

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Bluebeard

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Overview

Broad humor and bitter irony collide in this fictional autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, who, at age seventy-one, wants to be left alone on his Long Island estate with the secret he has locked inside his potato barn. But then a voluptuous young widow badgers Rabo into telling his life story—and Vonnegut in turn tells us the plain, heart-hammering truth about man’s careless fancy to create or destroy what he loves.

Broad humor and bitter irony collide in Vonnegut's fictional biography of aging artist Rabo Karabekian--first introduced in Breakfast of Champions--who wants only to be left alone at his Long Island estate with the secret he has locked in his potato barn. "A joyous, soaring fiction."--Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Reissue.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Ranks with Vonnegut’s best and goes one step beyond . . . joyous, soaring fiction.”—The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

“Vonnegut is at his edifying best.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Vonnegut is George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer . . . a zany but moral mad scientist. ”—Time

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this, the most intimate of Vonnegut's 13 novels, he brings back ``the erstwhile American painter Rabo Karabekian, a one-eyed man'' who played a minor role in Breakfast of Champions. At 71, Karabekian is leading an oyster's life, albeit in an East Hampton mansion stocked with modern masterpieces. Most of the friends with whom he launched the Abstract Expressionist movement have died, as has his wife of many years; his faith in his artistic ability has vanished as well. It remains for an irritant in the form of a determined younger woman to oust his customary melancholy. Circe Berman is an author of teenage fiction with ``relevant'' themes and a rearranger of Karabekian's home and creative energies. She soon has him writing his memoirs, which he titles Bluebeard; and it is a pearl of a book. Karabekian recalls his parents' exodus to California from Turkish Armenia following the first mass murder of what will become ``the genocide century,'' his introduction to both art and sex during an apprenticeship with a mad New York illustrator, Gregory, and his mistress, Marilee, the loss of his eye and a few more illusions in World War II and his subsequent role as an artist manque. Like lost lives, Karabekian's is a constant blending of regret and hope but Vonnegut has graced it with a touching denouement that suggests that even in our own particular kingdom of the blind, a one-eyed man can be king. October
Library Journal
Vonnegut rounds up several familiar themes and character types for his 13th novel: genocide, the surreality of the modern world, fluid interplay of the past and present, and the less-than-heroic figure taking center stage to tell his story. Here he elevates to narrator a minor character from Breakfast of Champions , wounded World War II veteran and abstract painter Rabo Karabekian. At the urging of enchantress-as-bully Circe Berman, Karabekian writes his ``hoax autobiography.'' Vonnegut uses the tale to satirize art movements and the art-as-investment mind-set and to explore the shifting shape of reality. Although not among his best novels, Bluebeard is a good one and features liberal doses of his off-balance humor. Recommended. A.J. Wright, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385333511
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Series: Delta Fiction Series
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 160,942
  • Product dimensions: 5.29 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959 and established him as “a true artist” (The New York Times) with Cat’s Cradlein 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, “one of the best living American writers.” Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.

Biography

Born in 1922, Vonnegut grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. His architect father suffered great financial setbacks during the Depression and was unemployed for long stretches of time. His mother suffered from mental illness and eventually committed suicide in 1944, a trauma that haunted Vonnegut all his life. He attended Cornell in the early 1940s, but quit in order to enlist in the Army during WWII.

Vonnegut was shipped to Europe, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was captured behind enemy lines and incarcerated in a German prison camp. As a POW, he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden by Allied forces, an event of devastating magnitude that left an indelible impression on the young soldier.

After the war, Vonnegut returned home and married his high school sweetheart. In addition to two daughters and a son of their own, he and his first wife adopted three children orphaned in 1958 by the death of Vonnegut's sister Alice. (He and his second wife adopted another daughter.) The family lived in Chicago and Schenectady before settling in Cape Cod, where Vonnegut began to concentrate seriously on his writing. His first novel, the darkly dystopian Player Piano, was published in 1952 and met with moderate success. Three additional novels followed (including the critically acclaimed Cat's Cradle), but it was not until the publication of 1969's Slaughterhouse Five that Vonnegut achieved true literary stardom. Based on the author's wartime experiences in Dresden, the novel resonated powerfully in the social upheaval of the Vietnam era.

Although he is best known for his novels (a genre-blending mix of social satire, science fiction, surrealism, and black comedy), Vonnegut also wrote short fiction, essays, and plays (the best known of which was Happy Birthday, Wanda June). In addition, he was a talented graphic artist who illustrated many of his books and exhibited sporadically during his literary career. He died on April 11, 2007, after suffering irreversible brain injuries as a result of a fall.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Kurt Vonnegut
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 11, 1922
    2. Place of Birth:
      Indianapolis, Indiana
    1. Date of Death:
      April 11, 2007
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

Read an Excerpt

Having written "The End" to this story of my life, I find it prudent to scamper back here to before the beginning, to my front door, so to speak, and to make this apology to arriving guests: "I promised you an autobiography, but something went wrong in the kitchen. It turns out to be a diary of this past troubled summer, too! We can always send out for pizzas if necessary. Come in, come in."

I am the erstwhile American painter Rabo Karabekian, a one-eyed man. I was born of immigrant parents in San Ignacio, California, in 1916. I begin this autobiography seventy-one years later. To those unfamiliar with the ancient mysteries of arithmetic, that makes this year 1987.

I was not born a cyclops. I was deprived of my left eye while commanding a platoon of Army Engineers, curiously enough artists of one sort or another in civilian life, in Luxembourg near the end of World War Two. We were specialists in camouflage, but at that time were fighting for our lifes as ordinary infantry. The unit was composed of artists, since it was the theory of someone in the Army that we would be especially good at camouflage.

And so we were! And we were! What hallucinations we gave the Germans as to what was dangerous to them behind our lines, and what was not. Yes, and we were allowed to live like artists, too, hilariously careless in matters of dress and military courtesy. We were never attached to a unit as quotidian as a division or even a corps. We were under orders which came directly from the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, which assigned us temporarily to this or that general, who had heard of our astonishing illusions. He was our patron for just a little while, permissive and fascinated and finally grateful.

Then off we went again.

Since I had joined the regular Army and become a lieutenant two years before the United States backed into the war, I might have attained the rank of lieutenant colonel at least by the end of the wear. But I refused all promotions beyond captain in order to remain with my happy family of thirty-six men. That was my first experience with a family that large. My second came after the war, when I found myself a friend and seeming peer of those American painters who have now entered art history as founders of the Abstract Expressionist school.

My mother and father had families bigger than those two of mine back in the Old World—and of course their relatives back there were blood relatives. They lost their blood relatives to a massacre by the Turkish Empire of about one million of its Armenian citizens, who were thought to be treacherous for two reasons: first because they were clever and educated, and second because so many of them had relatives on the other side of Turkey's border with its enemy, the Russian Empire.

It was an age of Empires. So is this one, not all that well disguised.

The German Empire, allied with the Turks, sent impassive military observers to evaluate this century's first genocide, a word which did not exist in any language then. The word is now understood everywhere to mean a carefully planned effort to kill every member, be it man, woman, or child, of a perceived subfamily of the human race.

The problems presented by such ambitious projects are purely industrial: how to kill that many big, resourceful animals cheaply and quickly, make sure that nobody gets away, and dispose of mountains of meat and bones afterwards. The Turks, in their pioneering effort, had neither the aptitude for really big business nor the specialized machinery required. The Germans would exhibit both par excellence only one quarter of a century later. The Turks simply took all the Armenians they could find in their homes or places of work or refreshment or play or worship or education or whatever, marched them out into the countryside, and kept them away from food and water and shelter, and shot and bashed them and so on until they all appeared to be dead. It was up to dogs and vultures and rodents and so on, and finally worms, to clean up the mess afterwards.

My mother, who wasn't yet my mother, only pretended to be dead among the corpses.

My father, who wasn't yet her husband, hid in the shit and piss of a privy behind the schoolhouse where he was a teacher when the soldiers came. The school day was over, and my father-to-be was all alone in the schoolhouse writing poetry, he told me one time. Then he heard the soldiers coming and understood what they meant to do. Father never saw or heard the actual killing. For him, the stillness of the village, of which he was the only inhabitant at nightfall, all covered with shit and piss, was his most terrible memory of the massacre.

Although my mother's memories from the Old World were more gruesome than my father's, since she was right there in the killing fields, she somehow managed to put the massacre behind her and find much to like in the United States, and to daydream about a family future here.

My father never did.

I am a widower. My wife, nee Edith Taft, who was my second such, died two years ago. She left me this nineteen-room house on the waterfront of East Hampton, Long Island, which had been in her Anglo-Saxon family from Cincinnati, Ohio, for three generations. Her ancestors surely never expected it to fall into the hands of a man with a name as exotic as Rabo Karabekian.

If they haunt this place, they do it with such Episcopalian good manners that no one has so far noticed them. If I were to come upon the spook of one of them on the grand staircase, and he or she indicated that I had no rights to this house, I would say this to him or her: "Blame the Statue of Liberty."

Dear Edith and I were happily married for twenty years. She was a grandniece of William Howard Taft, the twenty-seventh president of the United States and the tenth chief justice of the Supreme Court. She was the widow of a Cincinnati sportsman and investment banker named Richard Fairbanks, Jr., himself descended from Charles Warren Fairbanks, a United States senator from Indiana and then vice-president under Theodore Roosevelt.

We came to know each other long before her husband died when I persuaded her, and him, too, although this was her property, not his, to rent their unused potato barn to me for a studio. They had never been potato farmers, of course. They had simply bought land from a farmer next door, to the north, away from the beach, in order to keep it from being developed. With it had come the potato barn.

Edith and I did not come to know each other well until after her husband died and my first wife, Dorothy, and our two sons, Terry and Henri, moved out on me. I sold our house, which was in the village of Springs, six miles north of here, and made Edith's barn not only my studio but my home.

That improbable dwelling, incidentally, is invisible from the main house, where I am writing now.

Edith had no children by her first husband, and she was past childbearing when I transmogrified her from being Mrs. Richard Fairbanks, Jr., into being Mrs. Rabo Karabekian instead.

So we were a very tiny family indeed in this great big house, with its two tennis courts and swimming pool, and its carriage house and its potato barn—and its three hundred yards of private beach on the open Atlantic Ocean.

One might think that my two sons, Terry and Henri Karabekian, whom I named in honor of my closest friend, the late Terry Kitchen, and the artist Terry and I most envied, Henri Matisse, might enjoy coming here with their families. Terry has two sons of his own now. Henri has a daughter.

But they do not speak to me.

"So be it! So be it!" I cry in this manicured wilderness. "Who gives a damn!" Excuse this outburst.

Dear Edith, like all great Earth Mothers, was a multitude. Even when there were only the two of us and the servants here, she filled this Victorian ark with love and merriment and hands-on domesticity. As privileged as she had been all her life, she cooked with the cook, gardened with the gardener, did all our food shopping, fed the pets and birds, and made personal friends of wild rabbits and squirrels and raccoons.

But we used to have a lot of parties, too, and guests who sometimes stayed for weeks—her friends and relatives, mostly. I have already said how matters stood and stand with my own few blood relatives, alienated descendants all. As for my synthetic relatives in the Army: some were killed in the little battle in which I was taken prisoner, and which cost me one eye. Those who survived I have never seen or heard from since. It may be that they were not as fond of me as I was of them.

These things happen.

The members of my other big synthetic family, the Abstract Expressionists, are mostly dead now, having been killed by everything from mere old age to suicide. The few survivors, like my blood relatives, no longer speak to me.

"So be it! So be it!" I cry in this manicured wilderness. "Who gives a damn!" Excuse this outburst.

All of our servants quit soon after Edith died. They said it had simply become too lonely here. So I hired some new ones, paying them a great deal of money to put up with me and all the loneliness. When Edith was alive, and the house was alive, the gardener and the two maids and the cook all lived here. Now only the cook, and, as I say, a different cook, lives in, and has the entire servants' quarters on the third floor of the ell to herself and her fifteen-year-old daughter. She is a divorced woman, a native of East Hampton, about forty, I would say. Her daughter, Celeste, does no work for me, but simply lives here and eats my food, and entertains her loud and willfully ignorant friends on my tennis courts and in my swimming pool and on my private oceanfront.

She and her friends ignore me, as though I were a senile veteran from some forgotten war, daydreaming away what little remains of his life as a museum guard. Why should I be offended? This house, in addition to being a home, shelters what is the most important collection of Abstract Expressionist paintings still in private hands. Since I have done no useful work for decades, what else am I, really, but a museum guard?

And, just as a paid museum guard would have to do, I answer as best I can the question put to me by visitor after visitor, stated in various ways, of course: "What are these pictures supposed to mean?"

These paintings, which are about absolutely nothing but themselves, were my own property long before I married Edith. They are worth at least as much as all the real estate and stocks and bonds, including a one-quarter share in the Cincinnati Bengals professional football team, which Edith left to me. So I cannot be stigmatized as an American fortune-hunter.

I may have been a lousy painter, but what a collector I turned out to be!

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 43 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 43 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    Highly recommend

    I love Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard doesn't have quite as much humor as some of his others, but enough to keep it interesting. It is a great story and very poignant.

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  • Posted January 2, 2011

    brilliant as always

    this is an excellent example of the wit and wisdom of Kurt Vonnegut. more pronounced is a theme of sadness and human futility that can be overcome only if we want to. the message here may be that often we dont want to.

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  • Posted October 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Fun & Easy Read

    I think it's pretty hard to go wrong when choosing a Vonnegut novel. They are all really easy to read, fast paced and fun. The story of Bluebeard it very enjoyable. It was never boring. It is a little different than Vonnegut's 'classic' books, but is just as good!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2008

    Bluebeard

    This book is so Vonnegut! It's amazingly original, comedic, and all-around fun!

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  • Posted November 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    !

    I loved this, but if you haven't read a lot of Vonnegut, I might start with more classic books. This is definitely a departure and feels like the most "accessible" to people who aren't looking for Cat's Cradle and Hocus Pocus.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2003

    One of Vonnegut's Best!

    Kurt Vonnegut's smirking, sour-mouthed satire is at his best in this soulful tale of a struggling bohemian trying to find his way in the modern world. Sometimes hillarious, sometimes heart rending, this tale tells the story of all our lives - in part or in whole - with classic Vonnegut illumination. Anyone who loves anything about Vonnegut will treasure this story!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2003

    Vintage Vonnegut

    I bought this book, mistaking it for another of Kurt Vonnegut's whose plot had intrigued me. However, in no way was I disappointed. Bluebeard is a really fun read, hilarious, and a page turner.

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