Catch-22 by Joseph Heller ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller was first published in 1961 and is one of the landmark American novels of the twentieth century, ranking number seven on the Modern Library’s list of the hundred best books in the English language of the twentieth century. It is an irreverent account of one man’s experiences in World War II on the fictional island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy.
John Yossarian is a twenty-eight-year-old American bombardier of Assyrian descent who isn’t a hero or a patriot, but is more of an antihero. He seems not to care much about the war or who wins it. He has flown a certain number of bombing missions over Italy to fight the Germans and he believes he has flown enough. He wants nothing more than to survive the war and to be sent home while he is still alive. Anytime he completes the requisite number of missions, an ass of a superior officer raises the number of missions in an effort to bring glory to himself and to impress his superior officers (possibly have an article about himself in the Saturday Evening Post). Yossarian is told he might be relieved of flying more missions if he makes such a request to a senior officer, but the only trouble is that only crazy people can be relieved of flying more missions and anybody who asks to be relieved isn’t really crazy and so can’t be relieved. This is the “catch-22” in the situation. There are many catch-22s throughout the novel.
The army in Catch-22 resembles more a lunatic asylum than a disciplined fighting force. The officers in charge are vain, pompous, petty, self-serving, insecure, vindictive and jealous. (Just like in the real world, these people exist everywhere.) With such as this in charge, how can you go right?
Catch-22 is filled with satire, irony, paradox and dark humor. Besides the maddeningly memorable officers, there are whores (one of whom tries to kill Yossarian because she believes he is responsible for the death of her boyfriend), an insecure chaplain, a young man who is cut to ribbons by the propeller of a plane when he attempts to touch the bottom in a playful gesture (his severed legs lie on the beach and nobody wants to go near them), a mess officer who corners every market including Egyptian cotton, a patient in the hospital who is so encased in bandages that nobody can be sure if there’s anybody inside or not, and a seductive nurse with whom Yossarian has an affair until she decides he’s not the kind of fellow she should be associating with. A memorable cast of characters that you might meet in your bad dreams. If war is hellish idiocy, the people who conduct the war are worse.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp