Galápagos, by Kurt Vonnegut; a book review

An Evolutionary Romp as Humanity and Civilization Desintigrate

Copyright © ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission; Author’s Google profile; Posted December 7, 2012

Galapagos Islands topographic map; image courtesy Eric Gaba


Galápagos, by Kurt Vonnegut (ISBN 0 586 09045 2) is written in Vonnegut’s classic style—witty, quirky, and slightly deprecating of humankind. The tale begins in Guayaquil, Ecuador but as the title suggests, moves to the Galápagos Islands, Santa Rosalia in particular.

It is something of an “almost” end-of-the-world story. I say almost because only a small band of survivors make it to Santa Rosalia and survive.

Yes, a handful of the characters die along the way and Vonnegut adopts the quirky affectation of prefixing the name of any character doomed to die in the next 24 hours with an asterisk, such as *Zenji Hiroguchi.

Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution

Charles Darwin seated; photo courtesy Maull & Fox
It is fitting that the Galápagos is where mankind should end up because this last vestige of mankind reproduce, and along the way evolve into a new species. They become furry semi-aquatic creatures, largely devoid of the “big brain” problem which led to mankind’s demise in the first place.

As you might recall, these islands are where Darwin did his scientific research from which he formed his theory of evolution. He went on to explain it all in his book On the Origin of Species in 1859.

The Plot Unfolds

The Nature Cruise of the Century is planned and a ship is commissioned for it, the Bahía de Darwin. When civilization begins to fall apart, the cruise is canceled. The few passengers who had arrived in Guayaquil early manage to escape in the Bahía.

Captain Adolf von Kleist begins the cruise drunk, but things get no better when he sobers up. As it turns out, he knows little to nothing about navigation or the art of captaining, his title is more honorary than anything.

It is only by accident and sheer luck that they arrive at Santa Rosalia at all. This is where the Captain runs the ship aground, eliminating all hope of ever escaping.

The hapless castaways must learn to survive in the wild. As time goes on and human evolution progresses, (losing their “big brain”), the population maintains a stability dependent upon limited resources.

The Cast of Characters

Leon is the observer through whose eyes we watch the story unfold, although none of the other characters can see him. This is because he’s a ghost who had been one of the workers building the Bahía. His dead father tries to get Leon to join him in the great beyond but he’ll have none of it; he’s determined to hang around to watch the evolutionary process unfold.

The principal character is Mary Hepburn, a retired schoolteacher. One of the only reasons they survive is her knowledge of biology. The captain of course is something of a jobbernowl, but Mary moves in with him anyway.

Selena MacIntosh is blind but amiable. Hisako Hiroguchi loses husband *Zenji early in the tale, but she is instrumental, producing the first furry baby. There are also six Kanka-bono girls who are the last surviving members of that now defunct cannibal tribe. They eat Selena’s seeing-eye dog.

There are a few minor characters tying the story together but the ones above are principal.

Galápagos is a must-read for any fan of Kurt Vonnegut; it is a wild ride through his crazy imagination. If you like this one, some of his notable books that I enjoyed are:

  • Slaughterhouse-5
  • Breakfast of Champions
  • Bluebeard

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