Book Review :: Catch-22

Catch-22Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun fact about this book: It takes a lot of time to read this! From what I gather from other reviews, I find I'm not the only one to have faced that. Inexplicable and inscrutable.

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions."

Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
Understand this and you'll understand the book! Catch-22 is set in the time of around 1944; almost at the end of the II World War. Situated in the island of Pianosa, it deals with the story of a military troop located in that area. Yossarian is our protagonist. He is first presented (or rather perceived) as an anti hero in the war. However, subsequently it is made obvious that he is our hero. The story deals, in the most ghastly, disgusting and repelling humourous manner, about Yossarian's and his friends' struggle to escape the insane world of their military troop.

Please read this spoiler only if you have read the book!
I cannot insist enough on that!
(view spoiler)[ The timeline of Catch-22 is random. The events are narrated and then again narrated (as a story of past) making many repetitions (for inferences and understanding). It goes to the past, comes to the present then again goes to the past and finally it comes to the point of present where all the contents merge, fitting themselves like an amazing jigsaw puzzle bringing the book to its high point! (hide spoiler)]

The ground reality of war bureaucracy is represented in the book in the most weird yet apt manner. Colonel Cathcart, the man in charge for missions of the bombing squad is the most sadist man ever.
The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live.
Cathcart is a menace who keeps increasing the number of missions the bombardiers have to fly. He keeps increasing the cutoff so that the soldiers cannot go home. The problem that the soldiers face in order to fight this, is Catch-22; the ingenious catch! When you read the book you'll know that there is not but one enemy attack on the military camp. There is no enemy. It is the bureaucracy that they have to fight.

Let me quote one of my favourite extracts:
"Do you know how long a year takes when it's going away?" Dunbar repeated to Clevinger. "This long." He snapped his fingers. "A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you're an old man."

Old?" asked Clevinger with surprise. "What are you talking about?"


I'm not old."

You're inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before that you were stepping into high school, and an unhooked brassiere was as close as you ever hoped to get to Paradise. Only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten-week summer vacation that lasted a hundred thousand years and still ended too soon. Zip! They go rocketing by so fast. How the hell else are you ever going to slow down?" Dunbar was almost angry when he finished.

Well, maybe it is true," Clevinger conceded unwillingly in a subdued tone. "Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it's to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?"

I do," Dunbar told him.

Why?" Clevinger asked.

What else is there?"
The book is just not about war bureaucracy and war horrors though. It has the elements of hope, survival and the zeal to live. Orr and Yossarian being the examples for this in particular.

Another striking feature of the book is its satirical tone especially with respect to women. The number of orgies described, Nately's whore, the woman with the yellow underwear, any woman Yossarian sleeps with; all of them portray in the most witty manner, the state of the world: reality! Bravo Heller for your brave pen!
"Prostitution gives her an opportunity to meet people. It provides fresh air and wholesome exercise, and it keeps her out of trouble."
Coming to some literary aspects now. Catch-22 is very rich in its style and contents. Usage of an adverb is shown in the most amazing manner I have ever known. Also it has a huge collection of wonderful words of the English language that it made me reopen my Oxford Dictionary! The characters are very strong. There is actually very little or nothing at all in the book that I can say is trash. It's brilliant!

Well... Go read it! It's the most intelligent book ever!

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