Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

60. An Underprivileged Nation

The island, seen from the air, was an amazingly regular rectangle. Cruel and useless stone needles were thrust up from the sea. They sketched a circle around it.

At the south end of the island was the port city of Bolivar.

It was the only city.

It was the capital.

It was built on a marshy table. The runways of Monzano Airport were on its water front.

Mountains arose abruptly to the north of Bolivar, crowding the remainder of the island with their brutal humps. They were called the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but they looked like pigs at a trough to me.

Bolivar had had many names: Caz-ma-caz-ma, Santa Maria, Saint Louis, Saint George, and Port Glory among them. It was given its present name by Johnson and McCabe in 1922, was named in honor of Simon Bolivar, the great Latin-American idealist and hero.

When Johnson and McCabe came upon the city, it was built of twigs, tin, crates, and mud—rested on the catacombs of a trillion happy scavengers, catacombs in a sour mash of slop, feculence, and slime.

That was pretty much the way I found it, too, except for the new architectural false face along the water front.

Johnson and McCabe had failed to raise the people from misery and muck.

“Papa” Monzano had failed, too.

Everybody was bound to fail, for San Lorenzo was as unproductive as an equal area in the Sahara or the Polar Icecap.

At the same time, it had as dense a population as could be found anywhere, India and China not excluded. There were four hundred and fifty inhabitants for each uninhabitable square mile.

“During the idealistic phase of McCabe’s and Johnson’s reorganization of San Lorenzo, it was announced that the country’s total income would be divided among all adult persons in equal shares,” wrote Philip Castle. “The first and only time this was tried, each share came to between six and seven dollars.”

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