Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
A Novel

No critic rating

Waiting for minimum critic reviews

See 10 Critic Reviews



Best known now by the 1996 Nick Nolte film of the same title, Mother Night (1961) is a dazzling narrative of false, shifting identity. The story tells of the odyssey of Howard Campbell, Jr., the book's protagonist, and is a paradigm of shifting loyalties, ambiguous commitment, and tales of personal compromise. Campbell is an American emigre in Germany at the time of Hitler's ascension; he is married to a German, his relations with the Nazi regime are excellent, and he agrees to spy for them and to become a broadcaster for the regime; but then, increasingly disaffected, Campbell becomes a double agent, then perhaps a triple agent, sending coded messages to the Allies.

After the War, he is tried for war crimes but is exonerated. The novel is written in memoir format from the point of view of the exiled Campbell, who, indifferent to outcome, plots suicide.

Here is a moral tale without a moral, or perhaps, according to Vonnegut, a tale with several morals. Vonnegut, a science fiction writer in his early career, knew the science fiction community very well, and it is more or less accepted that the conflicted and indecipherable Howard Campbell is modeled upon John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971), the great editor of Astounding and Analog whose decades long rightward drift led him to endorse George Wallace in 1968.


Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is one of the most beloved American writers of the twentieth century. Vonnegut's audience increased steadily since his first five pieces in the 1950s and grew from there. His 1968 novel Slaughterhouse-Five has become a canonic war novel with Joseph Heller's Catch-22 to form the truest and darkest of what came from World War II.

Vonnegut began his career as a science fiction writer, and his early novels--Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan--were categorized as such even as they appealed to an audience far beyond the reach of the category. In the 1960s, Vonnegut became closely associated with the Baby Boomer generation, a writer on that side, so to speak.

Now that Vonnegut's work has been studied as a large body of work, it has been more deeply understood and unified. There is a consistency to his satirical insight, humor and anger which makes his work so synergistic. It seems clear that the more of Vonnegut's work you read, the more it resonates and the more you wish to read. Scholars believe that Vonnegut's reputation (like Mark Twain's) will grow steadily through the decades as his work continues to increase in relevance and new connections are formed, new insights made.


Author Kurt Vonnegut is considered by most to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His books Slaughterhouse-Five (named after Vonnegut's World War II POW experience) and Cat's Cradle are considered among his top works. RosettaBooks offers here a complete range of Vonnegut's work, including his first novel (Player Piano, 1952) for readers familiar with Vonnegut's work as well as newcomers.

About Kurt Vonnegut

See more books from this Author
Kurt Vonnegut was a master of contemporary American literature. His 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" with Cat's Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, "one of the best living American writers." Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.
Published August 6, 2009 by The Dial Press. 288 pages
Genres: Humor & Entertainment, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, History, War. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Mother Night

Kirkus Reviews

See more reviews from this publication

Howard writes about his life in Germany before his involvement, of his marriage to the daughter of a Police Chief, of the romantic plays he wrote as an apolitical young idealist who thought of the Nazis: "They were people," of Adolph Eichmann whom he meets in Jail, of a broad spectrum of contempo...

Oct 06 2011 | Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel

Entertainment Weekly

Though Mother Night left theaters quickly, in this video edition — where you can take advantage of rewind to suss out the convoluted plot — the strong work of Nolte and Alan Arkin (as a painter friend of Campbell's) deserves your attention.

Apr 25 1997 | Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel

Entertainment Weekly

The ''irony'' is that even as Campbell is aiding the U.S. cause, he becomes a hero of the Third Reich, a reverent voice of Nazi propaganda who signs off each broadcast as ''the last free American.'' After the war, U.S. officials refuse to acknowledge his patriotic role (it would tip their ha...

Nov 15 1996 | Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel

San Francisco Chronicle

It took guts for Keith Gordon, the director of "Mother Night," to transfer Kurt Vonnegut's 1961 dark fantasia of a novel to the screen.

Nov 15 1996 | Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel

Spirituality & Practice

Campbell's virulent radio broadcasts against the Jews and the Allies win him fame in Germany and hatred abroad.

| Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel

Time Out New York

Nolte is Howard W Campbell Jr, an apolitical American playwright in Nazi Germany whose work as a conduit for US intelligence, concealing encoded communiqués in his Jew-baiting broadcasts on German radio, yields widely inspirational Nazi propaganda.

| Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel

Rolling Stone

Nick Nolte does his best acting in years as Howard Campbell, an American writer living in Germany during World War II who spies on the Nazis by pretending to be one and ends up confused about good and evil.

Nov 01 1996 | Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel

The Baltimore Sun

But it's very nice to have Vonnegut's best book well-adapted to the screen, in "Mother Night," with Nick Nolte.

Nov 08 1996 | Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel


At least three styles of filmmaking clash incongruously in Keith Gordon's "Mother Night," an extremely ambitious but not entirely successful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's ironic satire of an American citizen in Hitler's Germany whose shifting politics and arbitrary allegiances ultimately cost him...

Sep 01 1996 | Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel

Sour Grapes Winery

What harm is there in writing what’s already been written?

Feb 25 2011 | Read Full Review of Mother Night: A Novel

Reader Rating for Mother Night

An aggregated and normalized score based on 329 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes

Rate this book!

Add Review