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Hocus Pocus

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Here is the adventure of Eugene Debs Hartke. He's a Vietnam veteran, a jazz pianist, a college professor, and a prognosticator of the apocalypse (and other things Earth-shattering). But that's neither here no there. Because at Tarkington College—where he teaches—the excrement is about to hit the air-conditioning. And its all Eugene's fault.

322 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1990

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About the author

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

516 books32.6k followers
Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.

He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.

After the war, he attended University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric. He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.

His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, the book which would make him a millionaire. This acerbic 200-page book is what most people mean when they describe a work as "Vonnegutian" in scope.

Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed humanist and socialist (influenced by the style of Indiana's own Eugene V. Debs) and a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The novelist is known for works blending satire, black comedy and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,407 reviews
Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
September 24, 2019
There are a couple of authors who aimlessly write, sometimes attaching all this "drivel" to one profound, emblematic theme. None of that with Vonnegut, who writes about the Vietnam War like no one else: with the courage to mix in futuristic and antiquarian events, all fictional but lifelike, as well as merging composite psyches with individual personal histories. He has a beating heart, and it beats louder and faster, with a warlike violence and even more often with a human tenderness, as Vonnegut attempts to externalize all of his thoughts on this most miserable stage in American history.

He writes about politics, & sex, & human ties. He's a master at making the protagonist both blatant observer & Man of Action. "Hocus Pocus" is a gallow's song.

Vonnegut has taken the war and made it his, so that every single plot or narrative arc (because indeed, even with the masterful scatter plot-logic of this novel [the plot was written on pieces of paper later decoupaged to make better sense in a somewhat linear fashion:], there is much calculated thought mingled in with a raw emotion) returns always to Vietnam.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,267 followers
January 9, 2022
Fools! All Of You! - Hocus Pocus GIF - Fool Fools Hocus Pocus GIFs

noun: meaningless talk or activity, often designed to draw attention away from and disguise what is actually happening.
~Oxford Languages Dictionary

Fans of Vonnegut know that he was against the Vietnam War and often used his books to point out the absurdity and evilness of the conflict and Hocus Pocus is no exception. 

Eugene Hartke used his gift of gab in the Vietnam War to encourage his troops to kill "the enemy". Afterwards, after the "excrement hit the air conditioning", Eugene took a position as a physics teacher at Tarkington College before ending up in prison.

I won't go into the entire plot. It won't sound as entertaining and humorous as it is. The more I read Vonnegut, the more I appreciate his gift, his insights, his satirical way of calling out bullshit.  

In Hocus Pocus, he not only derides the Vietnam War, but also institutional racism, capitalism, the gullibility of the masses, and the greed of the rich.  As always, he does it in the most amusing way. Vonnegut fans won't want to miss this one.

Here's a sampling:

About a man serving a life sentence in prison:
"He hadn’t killed nearly as many people as I had. But then again, he hadn’t had my advantage, which was the full cooperation of our Government."

"The lesson I myself learned over and over again when teaching at the college and then the prison was the uselessness of information to most people, except as entertainment. If facts weren’t funny or scary, or couldn’t make you rich, the heck with them."

"I think any form of government, not just Capitalism, is whatever the people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today."
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews927 followers
November 18, 2019
"The excrement has hit the air-conditioning, big time."

While I found Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus interesting, this might well be my least favorite Vonnegut book. Our protagonist, Eugene Debs Hartke is named for the political activitist, Eugene Debs, and anti-war Senator, Vance Hartke. Debs’ most famous quote, “while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free” appears numerous times in the book. As he awaits trial, Hartke admits that he is nothing like his namesakes. He’s a Vietnam War vet and college professor who gets into trouble for his views on history and apocalyptic events. Like Mother Night, this novel is a sort of confession from our protagonist; however, Hartke’s stated purpose is to name all the women he’s slept with and determine how many people he killed in the war.

Friend and fellow Vietnam War soldier, Jack Patton, hails from Wyoming. His rejoinder to nearly every situation, “I had to laugh like hell” is a refrain in the early going of the novel.
Hartke ends up marrying Jack Patton’s sister; insanity, which Hartke discusses in great detail, just happens to run in the family. This made me think about references to Wyoming that I’ve noticed in a couple Vonnegut novels. I’d remembered the reference in Slaughterhouse-Five. Wild Bob tells fellow prisoner, Billy Pilgrim, that, if he’s ever in Cody, Wyoming “just ask for Wild Bob!” Don’t know if Vonnegut had any connection to Wyoming or what his impressions of Wyoming might have been, but it made me curious. If anyone knows, I’d like to hear more!

That said, this Vonnegut novel didn't really take me anywhere I hadn't been before. It is full of Vonnegut’s insights and I was happy enough reading it until the ending just seemed to drop out of nowhere. 3.5 stars.

“Being an American means never having to say you're sorry.”

Profile Image for Erik Ryman.
Author 6 books
September 8, 2008
Hocus Pocus is the story of Eugene Debs Hartke, a Vietnam veteran, who after leaving the Army became a teacher at a private school and then a prison. After a prison break, he is mistaken for one of the ring leaders and ends up awaiting trial, dying of TB, contemplating his life and trying to count the number of women he has slept with.

In itself, that would make a good basis for an ordinary book, but as this is a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut, the basic story has little to do with making this one of the final greats of the late 20th Century.

In fact describing it as a novel may be pushing it at all. As all you fine creative writing course graduates know, a beginning and an end are kinda compulsory, and even without them a middle would be quite handy. Vonnegut no doubt knew the 'rules' but you get the impression that he never let that get in the way of anything. Instead he put together a beautiful satire of just about every aspect of American life, from the idiocy of Vietnam, the treatment of the 'vets when they got home, the sale of just about everything to the Japanese and the inbred insularity of the majority of Americans.

But not all Americans are equal, and the difference between those with money and those without is a constant theme and despite quoting Orwell's opinion that 'Rich people are just poor people with money' there is an 'apartedness' that sees rich Americans believe themselves to be a different species, with the incisive narrator in the form of Hartke wearily pointing a leary finger at them.

All of this before what was surely at the front of Vonnegut's mind when he sat down to write Hocus Pocus, the imminent death of the planet through his country's disregard of the environmental impact of 'The American Way (tm)'. And does he lay on the environmental concern with ladles.

Like Heller, Vonnegut's humour softens what are in the main quite bleak and dark episodes, and the ridiculousness of the characters and their beliefs highlights his central themes. The characters themselves are a master class, with every individual at least receiving a passing note regarding their quirks and peccadilloes. Nothing is simple - after the prison break, the head of the school (which naturally is over-run by the prisoners) takes to the bell tower with a sniper rifle, before ultimately being killed and then crucified.

The beauty of it all is that it is almost believable, yet still fantastic in its truest sense.

I must admit, I'd avoided reading Vonnegut's novels for years, believing him to be a second-rate science fiction writer for some reason and it is only in the last few months that I have tackled some of his work. Reading other reviews, I understand that his output was quite patchy, but if this, Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse 5 are anything to go by, I'll be reading and enjoying many more.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
November 8, 2019
"The truth can be very funny in an awful way, especially as it relates to greed and hypocrisy."

In many ways, this is about hypocrisy and deception and so is one of Vonnegut’s most scathingly cynical and satirical works, and yet his scorn here is subtle, though rarely playful as he can be and has demonstrated in other novels. This most reminded me of his 1979 novel Jailbird. We have another unreliable narrator, but this is Vonnegut and so situational irony and complexity spice the topsy turvy perspective. We have a protagonist nicknamed “The Preacher” who does not curse, and yet is a killer and serial adulterer.

The title “Hocus Pocus” comes from the idea that words are like magic, creating illusions that can cast spells and create misinformation and can conjure up the idea of a good result when the opposite is actually true.

An observant reader of Kurt Vonnegut will note that imprisonment, of various kinds, is a ubiquitous theme in his work. As in Jailbird, we have a man who is in and out of institutions, not all of his choosing.

Another recurring theme is the military. Vonnegut was a forward scout in the Army and then a prisoner of war in Dresden Germany. The hero here is Eugene Debs Hartke who was a veteran of the war in Vietnam. I’ve read some reviewers who have opined that this is a book about Vietnam, I did not see that specifically, but a vehicle for Vonnegut to continue his ongoing anti-war message.

Vonnegut had sympathies with the common man and with socialist reforms and Eugene Debs was a hero for him. Having our narrator named after the famous leader and orator was another opportunity for KV to tell that story and we also get more Vonnegut social and economic commentary. We also are reminded of one of Debs’ most noteworthy quotes: “While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Like his 1976 novel Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! and his 1985 novel Galápagos, this also describes an alternate history wherein there is an economic collapse, though here his description is understated.

What’s it about? Like all of his works, there is the surface story and then all of the various and sundry meanderings that make his writing so enjoyable. On the surface it is about a retired military officer who accepts a position at a small college in rural New York. His wife and mother in law are insane (another Vonnegut staple) and he loves loves loves to have extramarital affairs, especially with older women – including the wife of the college president. He is fired and gets hired on across the lake to a prison that has been privatized and owned by a Japanese corporation. There is a prison break and all of the poor, dangerous and predominately black inmates march across the frozen lake and invade the rich and privileged college town.

It’s also about hypocrisy, racism, love and war, insanity, social justice, honesty, culture, and the propensity of American society to destroy itself.

And there is an obscure reference to Kilgore Trout for KV fans to find, like an Easter egg!

Kurt Vonnegut is a national treasure and while this is not one of his greatest books (first published in 1990, this is one of his later works), it is another demonstration of his phenomenal ability.

Profile Image for Jason.
372 reviews48 followers
June 11, 2017
A biting satire with sharp teeth.

An often hilarious and all too often sadly accurate commentary on our culture and humanity as whole, all wrapped up in a story about a Vietnam Veteran turned instructor that witnesses a mass prison break and eventually becomes a prisoner himself. On pure plot - we are being told the story by the main character, Eugene Debs Hartke, named for a Socialist Atheist, raised by a pair of nit-wits, and then made to go to West Point by the paternal nit-wit. Eugene Hartke would have liked to go to a liberal arts college, had a decent time, and given a perfect outcome become a jazz pianist, instead he became a professional soldier and was sent to Vietnam where he saw a lot of people die and did a lot of killing himself, some even with his bare hands while others by the 'hocus pocus' of the rhetoric he spout to his inferiors. Well there was a lot that went on in Vietnam that would come back again and again to Eugene, there was a friend, and eventual brother-in-law, that 'laughed like hell' at just about everything - perhaps he was 'not quite right' or perhaps he was wiser than the rest of us, seeing just how ridiculous we all are, it all is. Well the actual war is just the beginning. We have his post-war life which was not all too kind to Eugene, both a wife and mother-in-law that were insane, and two kids that hated him for it. Eugene also landed a job at a college that was for students with money, but not capable of getting into any reputable institution for higher-learning, which happened to be right across the lake from the massive prison that would eventually be compromised and have the convicts swarming out, which is the event that brings about his own imprisonment. We also hear about his infidelities which are numerous. In a nutshell that about sums up what transpires to our protagonist, and all of it we know from early on, what we don't know is how one thing leads to another and why - that is what we learn as we read on.

The themes touched on range from capitalism, racism, religion, class-ism, small mindedness, a collapse of culture, the pointlessness of war and general ignorance. I would say the main theme which is a staple of Vonnegut's might very well be the utter ludicrousness of humanity in general.

A special note - Trafalmadorians have a call-out for those that love Slaughterhouse-Five.

For me this was classic Vonnegut, but it felt even less hopeful than normal, or perhaps it's just me and I am in need of more hope these days - either way it felt a little more depressing than witty, fun lessons. This one may suffer a bit from being published in 1990 and being set in 2001, much of his sooth-saying came close to being true, but others seemed rather off, it was this based in reality in a time now just gone by that may made it feel slightly off to this humble reader. Still a lot of things to take away, just not perhaps up to the standards he himself set in some of his other works.
Profile Image for M.L. Rio.
Author 2 books6,458 followers
October 17, 2017
I haven't read a book I loved this much in a long time. In Hocus Pocus Vonnegut is at his best, walking the line between absurdism, satire, and tragedy with unsurpassed finesse. It's not a story for everyone, because nothing in this story is sacred. (Even the Kennedy assassination isn't off-limits.) The humor is grim, the characters often unpalatable, the outlook bleak. What makes it so compulsively readable is Vonnegut's skill and insight as raconteur. The non-linear narrative seems at first to jump from time to place at random, but in actuality leads the reader in smaller and smaller concentric circles until at last all the questions have been answered, the holes have been filled, the story has been told, and we've arrived back where we started. It's a narrative masterpiece disguised as a mess. But even more compelling is the author's ability to give equal empathy to opposite problems. On one page his narrator may lambaste the catastrophic lunacy of the Vietnam War, and on the next lament the plight of returning soldiers repudiated by their peers, with no less compassion. So maybe nothing is sacred, or maybe everything is. It's a testament to Vonnegut's tremendous talent that that's the question he provokes and leaves unanswered: Is anyone in the right or wrong or are we all just human and therefore, intrinsically, both?
Profile Image for Brian.
707 reviews354 followers
December 4, 2017
“The 2 prime movers in the Universe are Time and Luck.”

“Hocus Pocus” is one of those Vonnegut novels that works from time to time. The first 75 pages or so are slow going. However, around page 100 I found myself more interested in the story. And it was easy going from then on.
Vonnegut reveals the story in this text piece by piece in scraps of memory revealed by the narrator. Each page reveals more of the larger picture, and the reader finds themselves understanding just a little bit more of the puzzle until it comes together as a whole picture. This revealing gaps of the plot piece by piece is a common device, but Vonnegut employs it really well in this book. It comes across as effortless, and not at all contrived.
“Hocus Pocus” is the life story of the narrator Eugene Debs Hartke. The novel takes on themes of parenting, adultery, mental instability, the Vietnam War, socialism, atheism, and the distinction in social classes brought about by race and wealth. That’s a lot of stuff to take on, and I did not mention all of it. And every last bit of it done with vintage Vonnegut black humor and dry wit.
Vonnegut is especially harsh on the irresponsibly wealthy and on those behind the Vietnam War in this book. Frankly, I feel that in the context in which he presents those opinions in the plot he is more than justified.
This novel did not feed me as much of some of Vonnegut’s other works, but it is a good book nonetheless. Some of his lesser know (and later) novels are often given short shrift. “Hocus Pocus” does not deserve that fate.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
65 reviews4 followers
September 27, 2010

I had to laugh like hell...

Reading Hocus Pocus hard on the heels of Brave New World, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and various other social/political material certainly gave a new depth to this amazing novel. I've owned it for quite a few years but had never quite gotten around to reading it: I suppose there is a time and a place for everything, because I would not have resonated with this novel as strongly at any other time.

Life seems to be, in Vonnegut's view, one long, complicated, and futile struggle indeed. A perpetual motion machine into which we keep inputting energy, hoping for a different result. Even the best of intentions (and rarely do humans really have those) can so easily go astray. While some see Vonnegut as satire, and others seem him as endlessly and hopelessly depressing, I see him in a role similar to that of the main character of this book: a Preacher; a Professor.

And the lessons Vonnegut has to teach us range all over society and politics, from scathing denunciations of war (particularly Vietnam, "about nothing but the ammunition business") and our treatment of returning soldiers, through the unethical and greedy action of the rich in the stock market (in the book's 2001, most of America is owned by the Japanese and many of the "ruling class" have lost their fortunes in a stock market scam that would have floored Bernie Madoff), to the state of our prisons (once again race segregated) and the utterly impossible divide between the haves and the have nots. Oh, and the environment (hopelessly mangled and experiencing climate change) and the energy crisis. Let's not forgot those!

The main character, Eugene Debs Hartke, is indeed named after the Eugene Debs, to whom the book is dedicated, and the reader should take note of this early marker for direction and interpretation.

Hartke is an anti-hero: soldier, criminal, teacher, fraud, compassionate husband, passionate adulterer. But he tries, God how he tries. He just wants to make people happy, give them some comfort, give them some knowledge... Unfortunately, knowledge has a tendency to make the Ruling Class squeamishly uncomfortable. (The Board of Trustees of Tarkington College, where our anti-hero teaches after returning from Vietnam, actually tells an applicant for Professor of Physics that she "would never, whether in class or on social occasions, discuss politics or history or economics or sociology with students.") And when Hartke is called to account by that same board for telling the truth of the world as he sees it, mostly unwittingly or while drunk, he is "let go" (what you do to the Servant Class, while people in the Workforce are fired and Soldiers are discharged). How he subsequently ends up teaching at the Black Prison across the lake (run for profit by the Japanese at a fraction of the cost of the State's running of it), surviving a mass inmate escape, becoming mayor of his consequently abandoned ghost town, and eventually imprisoned in his "own" library and dying of tuberculosis forms the majority of the rest of the narrative.

But the narrative is not nearly as interesting (in my opinion) as the landscape Hartke inhabits. Published in 1990, the parasitic germs of Vonnegut's speculative future (only ten years out) had not only already been planted, but were already beginning to devour their host. A country in which the Yen is a stable and accepted currency in the US of A alongside the dilapidated dollar (got a wheelbarrow?), a tank of gas costs a small fortune, the rivers are clogged with non-biodegradable plastic bottles, and a new ice age is bearing down on it all.

Some reviewers have said that Vonnegut tends to hit one over the head with the moral of his stories over and over again. He does, but in such a thought-provoking, and, indeed, sometimes hilarious way, that I wanted more.

On profanity: "profanity and obscenity entitle people who don't want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you."

On the class system: "Down with the Ruling Class!"

On joining the military: "...to be put in a soldier suit and turned into a homicidal, suicidal imbecile in 13 weeks."

On the class system and joining the military: "not one of them [(the Board of Trustees)] had allowed a son or daughter to be sent over there [(Vietnam)]."

On being a teacher: "All I ever wanted to overthrow was ignorance and self-serving fantasies."

On America: "...human slavery... [has] in fact, never gone away. People [want] to come here because it [is] so easy to rob the poor people, who [get] absolutely no protection from the Government. [There are] bridges falling down and water mains breaking because of no maintenance. [There are] oil spills and radioactive waste and poisoned aquifers and looted banks and liquidated corporations. And nobody ever gets punished for anything. Being an American means never having to say you're sorry."

On the most brilliantly cruel and sadly realistic business scheme ever: "Microsecond Arbitrage, Incorporated: That swindle claimed to be snapping up bargains in food and shelter and clothing and fuel and medicine and raw materials and machinery and so on before people who really needed them could learn of their existence. And the company's computers, supposedly, would get the people who really needed whatever it was to bid against each other, running profits right through the roof."

And finally, an epitaph for the planet: "We could have saved it, but we were too doggone cheap!"
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,729 followers
December 28, 2017
"The truth can be very funny in an awful way, especially as it relates to greed and hypocrisy."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus


Having read Timequake prior to reading Hocus Pocus (these are his last two novels), I was glad I reveresed the order. While I wasn't blown away by 'Hocus Pocus', it was moderately better than 'Timequake'. Hocus Pocus was a bit wide at the hips. Vonnegut was covering a lot of ground with this novel. He was looking at issues of race, war, economics, politicis, education, money, culure, prison reform, ptsd, marriage, death, intimacy, and more. There were a lot of little punches by Vonnegut, but none were knockouts.

Two of the idiocycracies in this book: 1) no swearing. Vonnegut's narrator, aka the 'Preacher' is an teacher, warden, and former Vietnam War officer, who is known as the "Preacher" because he doesn't ever swear, so Vonnegut mutes his language. 2) No numbers written as numbers. So, instead of writing "one friend", Vonnegut's narrator writes "1 friend". It all seems a bit forced and contorted for Vonnegut. I prefer my KV unplugged a bit more.

A couple of my favorite Vonnegut quotes from this novel:

--"The truth can be very funny in an awful way, especially as it relates to greed and hypocrisy."

--"Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance."

--"[M]an was the weather now. Man was the tornadoes, man was the hailstones, man was the floods."

--"I think any form of government, not just Capitalism, is whatever the people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today."

--"Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe."
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
552 reviews167 followers
February 10, 2019
Vonnegut's writing seemed to grow more overtly autobiographical as he neared the end of his life. Maybe that's not accurate, since he was inserting himself into his own narratives as early as Slaughterhouse-Five. Maybe I just notice it more easily now. At any rate, this time he's literally present as the editor of this, an alleged work of found literature, and figuratively present in the character of Eugene Debs (no relation), a veteran who worked at a college and has strong opinions about the human species and where it's headed.

Compared to his early works, Hocus Pocus comes across as clumsy. Perhaps he did not have the energy or patience to revise in the same way. But clumsy Vonnegut writing is still head and shoulders above most. There is a strong vein of bleakness throughout this book, which combines elements of Mother Night (a main character, imprisoned, awaits trial for a crime he may or may not have committed) with the brief, episodic snippets of Breakfast of Champions. It carries a sense of tragic fatalism, of hopelessness, of tired resignation. It seems to me his most cynical book, which is saying a lot. There is little room for subtlety, I suppose, when you're a writer with a conscience who has lived through decade after decade and seen next to no improvement in society. New technology, new gizmos and gadgets and ever-compounding distractions, but the same essential errors in judgment and the same flaws in humankind's collective character. It must have been frustrating.

3.5 stars out of 5. It may not be his best, it may feel at times overlong, slow-moving, underdeveloped, and certainly repetitive. But in spite of its negative tone, overall it is quite charming, very witty, undoubtedly poignant, and eminently quotable.
Profile Image for Barbara K..
429 reviews85 followers
January 10, 2022
The name of the main character of this book is Eugene Debs Hartke. Oddly enough, I grew up familiar with Eugene Debs even though he was not exactly a headline name in the 50’s and 60’s because as a child my mother was taken by her older brother to hear him speak, a fact she mentioned on a number of occasions. Presumably he made a big impression on a child who couldn’t have been more than 10 at the time.

Equally odd - one of my most vivid memories of that same uncle’s house is the omnipresent stack of Wall Street Journals in his living room. What would Debs have made of that?

Back to the book. It’s vintage Vonnegut, with a slippery timeline. It was written in around 1990, with the principle events occurring 10 years into that future, which means 2o years ago now. Over the course of the book Hartke recounts the life circumstances that led him to his status at the time of the narrative, a convict awaiting trial in the library of a college that has been converted to a prison. Most of the action post-Vietnam takes place in the Finger Lakes district of NY state, an area I know very well. So, another personal connection.

One of Vonnegut’s themes, perhaps the major theme, is the wealth disparity between those at the very top and the rest of us. In the book, the source of the inordinate wealth of the elite is the sale to foreigners of all the income producing assets of the US. In reality, the growth of the 2% has been due to all manner of greed, abetted by politicians and tax codes and various slimy undertakings.

But regardless of the means, we are moving ever closer to the scenario painted by Vonnegut. Which made this book a wee bit too close to reality for me to enjoy it in quite the same manner as I have other of his books, although it does carry the same acerbic, ironic sparkle as they do.
Profile Image for seak.
434 reviews473 followers
January 23, 2015
I love Vonnegut, but this one felt a little forced and was largely forgettable. Forced in the way that it felt like another one of his phrases (like "so it goes") was being churned out and forgettable because I can't even remember that phrase.

Still, not terrible, just one of his weaker novels.
Profile Image for Czytająca  Mewa.
799 reviews144 followers
July 11, 2022
O Vonnegutcie mogłabym powiedzieć wiele, a wciąż byłoby to za mało, więc jedyne, co zrobię, to puszczę do Was oko i przypomnę, że pragnę przeczytać wszystko, co autor ten stworzył. Bo warto. Po prostu. Jego czarne komedie to doskonała krytyka rządu oraz jednostek, a to zawsze znajdzie moje uznanie, jeśli przedstawione jest ze smakiem.

„To, że niektórzy z nas potrafią czytać, pisać i trochę rachować, nie znaczy jeszcze, że zasługują na to, by podbić Wszechświat."
Profile Image for Diane.
299 reviews16 followers
April 29, 2010
This is not, not, not a book to be read if you haven't read Kurt Vonnegut in your life. It is also something that needs to be handled with a certain care and consideration for satire and the hilarity that can come with it. Kurt Vonnegut is a master of cynicism and being able to open one's eyes to the often times ridiculous world around us.

This story is an intricate weaving of sections that are as variable in length as they are in subject matter. And yet, with the expertise of a skilled writer, Vonnegut easily melts the subjects into a fantastic collaboration of stories that becomes literally seamless if read in a short amount of time. This is not a book that you'll want to put down. Your curiosity about the narrator, Eugene Debs Hartke, will soar upon first meeting him. We receive a scope of his life with such airy disregard that it makes us want to hug Eugene, laugh with him, be frustrated with him, be angry with him, and want to go out and have a drink with him (possibly only if you are male or a female who is still rather young or over 30)! It is an interesting thing that so much can come from the narrator who is writing upon scraps of paper in a devastated 'war zone', so to speak, locked up in a library. The claustrophobic hovering of doom over his arrest looms closer and closer to our precious narrator and yet we receive a broad spectrum of events that escapes the confines of the reality that is facing him and us. Which is what satire is, often, all about!

His style is similar to his other novels, where repetition of catchy sayings draws you in, hook, line, and sinker. The narration has to be what it is because of the witty satire that is spewed out at every turn of the page. Literally, in every chopped up section of the novel, there is satire to be had. At times, it's overwhelming, as it should be! There is so much to point at and question and then make something interestingly cynical about it. Some find the style irritating, but it is a truth that cannot be ignored on a frequent basis.
If you're well schooled in Vonnegutology, I hope you'll find this book and devour it as ravenously as I did. If not, I still hope you'll give him a shot. He's an eye-opener, if nothing else!
Profile Image for Danger.
Author 33 books657 followers
March 21, 2017
2ND TIME READING: Vonnegut is just amazing. What we have here is an inciting incident, an incident around which everything else in this book pivots, and instead of focusing on that, we examine the two dozen satellites that are trapped in it’s orbit. In doing that, this book explores and satirizes and subverts so many disparate yet somehow related things (the prison system, higher education, neo-McCarthyism, family, Vietnam, etc) that it’s hard to know which direction is up. But Vonnegut tells stories like a shotgun fires bullets. Although this author’s most famous works are all clumped together in the early part of his career, this late-era novel (published in 1990, I believe) shows us a writer who has finally perfected a style and tone that are distinctively, and inseparably, his own. As such, I enjoyed this reread more than I did when I read it the first time.
Profile Image for Peter.
151 reviews14 followers
July 10, 2008
I can't say that this is one of Kurt Vonnegut's best works. To be honest, it's rather more depressing than many of his other novels - and they're a rather depressing lot anyway! Unlike his Bluebeard, though, this book lacks a deeply moving and somehow uplifting ending. It lacks a sense of resolution...perhaps that's what Vonnegut intended. It probably is.

But even so, Vonnegut retained his gifts as a writer. So although I found myself frequently feeling a little depressed by this book, I also couldn't stop reading it - and I'll eventually read it again.

One thing that's almost shocking is the accuracy of Vonnegut's "future" (2001) America. Environmental collapse (from glaciers instead of global warming, but close enough), an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, a desperate energy crisis, booming prison populations and the privatization of prisons, the wholesale purchase of American businesses and properties by foreign businesses, chronic unemployment caused by the demise of American industry, no healthcare for the poor...and that's just from memory, I know there was more. The seeds of all these trends were not only planted but sprouting back in 1990 when Vonnegut wrote this, but even so he paints a pitiless and frighteningly accurate picture.

It's nice to see a few of his old favorite characters in the book; it gives a feeling of continuity. And he retained his wicked wit and imagination. It just seems that they were being overshadowed by the essential bleakness of Vonnegut's worldview - a worldview which, I fear, was only too clear.
Profile Image for Peter.
614 reviews86 followers
October 22, 2019
"Any form of Government, not just Capitalism, is whatever people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today."

''Hocus Pocus'' is first-person narrative told by Eugene Debs Hartke, West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran told in retrospective and written on scraps of paper whilst in prison.

Hartke is thoughtful about his war record but not tormented by it and is quite candid about the number of people he killed or had killed on behalf of his Government nor the many official lies he dispensed whilst an information officer. After leaving Vietnam and the Army he is recruited by his old commanding officer to become a physics teacher at Tarkington College in upstate New York, an institution that specializes in nurturing the moronic sons and daughters of the ruling class.

After years in tranquil academia Hartke is fired from the college for being too pessimistic and thus unpatriotic by rich and powerful accusers who never actually served in the military themselves. As he explains, ''I see no harm in telling young people to prepare for failure rather than success, since failure is the main thing that is going to happen to them.''

On dismissal from the college Hartke finds employment just across the lake at the former state prison, which is run for profit by a Japanese corporation and operates it much more efficiently and profitably than the state did. ''Poor and powerless people, no matter how docile, were no longer of use to canny investors.''

The prison is populated entirely by black inmates after a Supreme Court ruling that it was inhuman to confine one race with another so the entire prison population escapes, during a gang operation to break out an individual drug dealer and crosses the frozen lake to the Tarkington campus taking the college's Governors hostage. Believing that blacks were incapable of planing a prison break, Hartke is arrested as the leader of the uprising and incarcerated himself.

In Hartke's America most of the country's companies and institutions has been sold to foreigners, who feel like invaders in business suits, and what is left is broken down and depleted where black markets and racial and social inequalities are epidemic. On the face of it this could be seen as a cynical and sarcastic critique of his own country. Yet it isn't totally pessimistic as there are also glimpses of compassion.

I felt that Hartke was excellent characterisation. He wasn't without his faults but he does have some redeeming traits. "My own feeling is that if adultery is wickedness then so is food. Both make me feel so much better afterward." Therefore he comes across as being very human a fact enhanced by the almost conversational style to the writing. The story is told with shifting timelines, is erratic at times and occasionally goes off on tangents. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book feeling a mixture of emotions whilst doing so, some times laughing at others cringing and as such feel that it deserves to be more widely read.
Profile Image for Russell.
13 reviews1 follower
January 26, 2008
I love Kurt Vonnegut. It would be difficult to overstate how formative Cat's Cradle was for me. I got a major kick out of Slaughterhouse Five.

But this book was missing everything that made those great. There's no winking wisdom behind the satircal bitterness. No blindingly fresh observations from the mouths of fools and idiots. There's no fun.

If you took all the wit and imagination and irony and subtlety out of Slaughterhouse Five, you'd end up with this. I can see why someone would want to write this book. I'm not sure why anyone would want to read it. (Which is almost tragically disappointing from the man whose first rule for fiction was "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.")

If you're thinking of picking this up, just go read Cat's Cradle for a second time. Or third. Or fiftieth. It's in a whole different league of awesome.
Profile Image for Paul Dembina.
437 reviews92 followers
April 1, 2023
Yet again the usual flawed ageing male narrator. This one is I guess Vonnegut's Vietnam novel. Not his best but still enjoyable
Profile Image for Maria Dobos.
108 reviews44 followers
September 7, 2016
Încă mă uimește capacitatea lui Kurt Vonnegut de a aborda un subiect oarecum banal și a-l transforma într-o capodopera… Dacă Abatorul Cinci demonta cu abilitate și ironie mitul războiului onorabil, Hocus Pocus e incredibil de vastă din punct de vedere al temelor abordate – discriminare, rasism, război, schimbări climatice, întregul sistem politic și educațional american este pus sub lupă; mă străduiesc și acum să înțeleg cum o carte atât de mică poate acoperi o întreagă realitate… Îmbinând cu măiestrie cea mai amară ironie cu tragicul întregii civilizații umane, cartea lui Vonnegut e GENIALĂ, îți taie răsuflarea și te lasă meditând la inutilitatea agitației cotidiene, la lipsa de sens și fragilitatea vieții umane. Deși a apărut cu peste 25 de ani în urmă, Hocus Pocus e incredibil de actuală, e tare deprimant să vezi cât de puțin învață oamenii din greșelile trecutului și ce departe li se pare viitorul.

"—Ce cursă inteligentă ne-a pregătit Clasa Conducătoare, a continuat el. Mai întâi, bomba atomică. Iar acum, asta.
— Cursă? L-am îngânat nedumerit.
— V-au prădat în voie trezoreriile publice şi private şi v-au dat industriile pe mâna unor zevzeci, a zis el. După care, Guvernul vostru s-a împrumutat atât de masiv de la noi încât nu am avut altă soluţie decât să vă trimitem o Armată de Ocupaţie în costume de oameni de afaceri. Niciodată, până acum, Clasa Conducătoare a unei ţări nu a găsit o modalitate de a arunca întreaga răspundere pe care ar putea-o implica averea ei pe umerii altor ţări şi totuşi să rămână încă mai bogată decât în cele mai frumoase visuri ale celui mai nesăţios avar! Nu-i deloc de mirare că, pentru ei, comatosul Ronald Reagan a fost aşa un Preşedinte epocal!"

"Războiul din Vietnam n-ar fi durat, fireşte, atât cât a durat, dacă n-ar fi fost în firea umană să-i tratezi pe cei pe care nu îi cunoşti sau pe care nu doreşti să-i cunoşti, chiar dacă s-ar afla în agonie, drept insignifianţi. Câteva fiinţe umane s-au luptat împotriva acestei tendinţe extrem de naturale şi şi-au exprimat compasiunea pentru străinii nefericiţi. Însă, aşa cum ne arată Istoria, aşa cum urlă Istoria din rărunchi: „N-au fost niciodată prea mulţi!”"

Profile Image for Anita Radeva.
175 reviews22 followers
June 29, 2019
"Това, че някои от нас могат да четат и пишат, а и да смятат що-годе прилично, все още не означава, че сме достойни да владеем Всемира."...Уникална книга. Реално не мога да дам никакво резюме, защото тази книга не може да се разкаже - трябва да се прочете. Уви, не мога да не споделя, че докато Вонегът описваше част от живота на главния герой, се натъкнах на прекрасни остроумни закачки. Те бяха свързани с различни аспекти от историята, войните, човешкия живот. Подсмихвах се на много места, на други си се смеех на глас! Книгата се чете малко по-тромаво, но ако я подхванете моя съвет е - не спирайте по средата на някоя глава...всичко е доста навързано и леко объркващо. Браво, като за първа прочетена книга на Кърт Вонегът съм много доволна.
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,749 reviews1,267 followers
January 23, 2018

There were a few moments in this brutally satirical, over the top, wackadoodle slapdash that felt real, and lived. Eugene Debs Hartke, Vietnam War veteran, is a professor at Tarkington College, where every student is learning disabled or possibly just stupid. He's teaching a Music Appreciation class and asks the students to pick a piece of music to go with a major event in their lives, the way Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture was about Napoleon's defeat in Russia. A boy named Bruce Bergeron picks the time he was six and got stuck with his Haitian nanny in an elevator at Bloomingdale's. The nanny hadn't gotten permission from Bruce's parents to go to Bloomingdale's, where she wanted to pick up some bargain sheets for her relatives back in Haiti. They were supposed to be at the American Museum of Natural History. The elevator sticks for maybe 20 minutes, but it feels like forever to Bruce. A voice tells them not to climb on the top of the elevator through the trapdoor. It all seems very momentous to Bruce, who thinks that everyone in America must know about it by now. Finally they are rescued, and Bruce is surprised not to be greeted by bands and cheering spectators. The people waiting outside don't even know the elevator was stuck, they're just waiting there for the next one and they board immediately. The nanny tells Bruce he mustn't speak about it ever, or she will get in trouble. He never speaks about it until this moment in Music Appreciation class. Eugene Hartke asks him, "You know what you have described to perfection?"

"No," he said.

I said, "What it was like to come home from the Vietnam War."

Unfortunately there were no other moments in the novel that matched this, amid all the quirky adultery and quirky murder and quirky obesity and quirky hereditary insanity and the prison breakout and the college president crucified on a cross. I'm not really sure where Vonnegut's place is in the American canon, and I like the idea of reading him because I'm fond of his biography (his master's thesis being rejected unanimously at the University of Chicago, and Cat's Cradle being accepted in its place many years later, is so poignant), but now I don't see a reason to read more.
Profile Image for Lyubov.
370 reviews197 followers
August 19, 2018
Отбелязвам 3 звезди само, защото не мога да се пречупя и да дам 2 на нещо, писано от Вонегът. По никакъв начин не избирайте "Фокус-бокус" за първи досег с него.

Това е книга само за хардкор Вонегът фенове и дори ние скърцаме със зъби докато я четем.
Profile Image for Martin Hernandez.
828 reviews29 followers
January 9, 2021
Con una narración bastante lineal, raro en Kurt VONNEGUT Jr. , esta historia no puede ser más absurda, increíble y divertida. En muchos sentidos, esta novela se trata sobre la hipocresía y el engaño, y me parece que es una de sus obras más cínicas, donde la ironía y la complejidad de la situación presentan la perspectiva al revés. Como todas sus obras, hay varios niveles de interpretación: está la historia superficial, la del militar retirado que acepta un trabajo de profesor en una escuela bastante particular, y están todos los diversos subtemas y divagaciones que hacen que su escritura sea tan entretenida e interesante.
En cierto sentido, es posible que no sea la mejor de sus obras, de repente puede parecer demasiado larga, lenta, y ciertamente repetitiva, con un aire pesimista más marcado de lo que sería normal con VONNEGUT. Pero a pesar de su tono negativo, en general es bastante ingeniosa y entretenida.
Profile Image for արմին.
70 reviews7 followers
March 22, 2017
վոնեգուտից «կապտամորուսն» էի կարդացել միայն ու ահա «Հոկուս պոկուսը» ավարտեցի։ ի՜նչ ցնցող գործ է։ կապտամորուսը շատ չէր տպավորել, ինձ համար սենց՝ հա, լավն էր պարզապես, ոչ մի բանով չէր կպել (միգուցե ինչ֊որ չափով թարգմանությունից էլ էր․ հայերեն էի կարդացել)։ իսկ հոկուս պոկուսը հուզական, սատիրիկ, քննադատական, թախծոտ, պատերազմական, ֆատալ, ռետրոսպեկտիվ, անհույս․․․ ու ֆաբուլան, որ մի ժամանակաշրջանից, մի տեղից մյուսն է թռնում, ու տանո՜ւմ է։ ու խնդիրները, որ բարձրացնում է՝ պատերազմ, ռասիզմ, աղքատություն, հավատք, կրոն, ստրկություն, սեր, նույնիսկ հոգեկան հիվանդություններ և խանգարումներ; համամարդկային են, այնպես յուրահատուկ տեսակետից ցույց տրված, որ զգում ես վոնեգուտի համար աշխարհն ինչպիսին է, ինչով է նա շնչում, ինչ տեսնում, երբ նայում է նույն բաներին, ինչին նայում ենք մենք, ինչին մենք էլ ենք բախվում։

ՀԳ․ ես վերջում չհաշվեցի, թե քանի կնոջ հետ էր քնել ու քանի մարդ էր սպանել Հարթկեն ու չդիմացա պարզապես նայեցի համացանցում
ավարտելուց հետո նոր իմացա, որ գրքի երկրորդ անվանումը «What's the Hurry, Son» է
ու անդարձելի սիրահարվեցի Վոնեգուտին
էլ ինչ կարելի էր սպասել իմ պես միկրոբների տիեզերական տրանսպորտից
Profile Image for Quinn.
4 reviews
November 26, 2008
My favorite of Vonnegut's lesser known works. Has the same wit exemplified in Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions. I think a big part of why I like this one so much is the numerology games he plays throughout. (I do love me some numbers). The choppy style takes a little bit to get used to (the self aware first person voice supposedly only had scraps of paper of divergent sizes to write on) but it pays off once you get used to it. Vonnegut has always been a master at seamlessly amalgamating fiction and autobiography and this novel is no exception (though it's done less conspicuously than in, say, "Timequake.") The book is also startling prophetic. You could replace almost all of the Vietnam references with Iraq and the change would be negligible. Noticeably absent from Hocus Pocus is most of the fantastical science fiction elements characteristic to almost all of his other novels, so if you want to get a sense of Vonnegut but have no interest in sci-fi/fantasy this is the book to do it with.
Profile Image for Jesus Flores.
2,065 reviews42 followers
July 27, 2022
Hocus Pocus

Como Slaughterhouse V, pero acá en lugar de WW2, este es Vietnam, y un poco una crítica a la enseñanza universitaria de las clases privilegiadas, el sistema penitenciario, la caída de sistemas económicos, esta interesante.
La verdad logra de una forma bastante amena lanzar su mensaje sobre sus temas, siendo bastante mordaz en algunos. Y un tanto fatalista en otros.
Oh, me gustan esas referencias cruzadas.

4 stars

Reto posugar 2022 - 26. Un libro con un título engañoso.
Profile Image for Ashton.
155 reviews958 followers
December 29, 2021
a little bizarre, but holds up surprisingly well and i found it very enjoyable and a relatively quick read! i like the way vonnegut fucks with time in a way that’s relatively easy to follow.
Profile Image for Luis.
324 reviews23 followers
July 5, 2016
Terminé el libro con un suspiro enorme, cerré la última página y mi ojo derecho lucía así:

* * *
¿Por donde empezar?
¡Pues por Kurt Vonnegut!
Este es el noveno o décimo libro que leo de él, ya me van quedando pocas balas.
Eso me apena mucho.
"Hocus Pocus" está entre sus novelas menos conocidas, y sin embargo en mi opinión personal está a la altura de sus obras cumbres. (Véase Matadero 5, Cuna de gato o Las sirenas del Titán)
En sí misma, la premisa principal de la historia le sirve como excusa para que este pueda desengranar una seguidilla de personajes muy pintorescos, hilarantes y memorables.

El final del libro es uno de los mejores finales que he leído hasta ahora, la lectura es muy amena, muy sencilla. Es directa y muy punzante. Vonnegut no pierde la oportunidad de evidenciar sus posturas con respecto a la humanidad con su típico humor negro y sus ya famosas coletillas.

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