In Kurt Vonnegut's newest book, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, the intrepid author boldly crosses the threshold between life and death. Into the blue tunnel and through the pearly gates forges Vonnegut in search of precious interviews with post-mortems, from James Earl Ray and Eugene Victor Debs to William Shakespeare and Kilgore Trout. At the outset of this fictional narrative, the author of Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions writes "My first near-death experience was an accident, a botched anesthesia during a triple-bypass." He finds the event so fascinating that he decides to elicit the assistance of Dr. Kevorkian in order to explore the afterlife and report his findings to a humanity so deathly afraid of death. Vonnegut's accounts, which were originally composed as three-minute bits on WNYC public radio, are all relatively short and lighthearted, but still intertwine social commentary and pointed comedy in the same way that his readers have long loved.
The Harvard Crimson had scheduled an interview with Mr. Vonnegut in February to discuss this book of fictional near-death experiences. However, only a few days before, the author's apartment in New York City caught on fire, hospitalizing him in critical condition with severe smoke inhalation. During the fire, he claims to have had his second non-fictional near-death experience, jokingly describing the event as "the railroad train to the afterlife." Three months later, we finally talk with a fully recovered Vonnegut about life, death, and everything in between.
The Harvard Crimson: We had tentatively scheduled an interview in February, but then a fire in your apartment hospitalized you for some time. How are you feeling right now?
Kurt Vonnegut: Fine, thank you. I am quite recovered. It was almost a near-death experience. Things weren't going so well for a little while, but I feel strong again.
THC: In this near death experience, did you ever see the "blue tunnel to the pearly white gates of the afterlife" that you describe in God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian and many of your other books?
KV: Well, when I was overcome by smoke inhalation, I was surprised to find that I did not hallucinate the blue tunnel. Instead, it was a passenger train-it made for a little less walking.
THC: Were you in first class?
KV: [Laughs] First class would be nice, but there were not classes on this train.
THC: In your newest book, you travel between the real world and the afterlife interviewing dead people. If you could pick your own afterlife, what would it be?
KV: That's a hard question, not one that a humanist concerns himself with too often. I guess it would be near water. But not just any water-it would have to be on a Great Lake. I can't stand salt water. It takes like chicken soup. You live out east, huh? Don't you get sick of the salt water?