CATCH-22 is masterful in so many ways. It begins as comic farce, proceeds to the increasingly surreal, and then transforms into a nightmarish tragedy before ending triumphantly. No novel that I know so successfully blends all these disparate moods. I believe it was Hugh Walpole who wrote, "Life is a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel." No book illustrates that better than this novel. This truly is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is also one of the most tragic.
CATCH-22 also introduces one of the most insane collection of great characters in fiction: Yossarian, the Chaplain, Orr, ex-P.F.C Wintergreen, Milo Minderbender, Maj. Major Major Major, Nately, Doc Daneeka, Danby, General Dreedle, Nately's girl (not the description in the book, but Amazon's software will bleep it), Cathcart, Nurse Duckett, The Texan, Major ----- de Coverley, The Soldier in White, and a host of other characters. It is one of the most gloriously populated novels of the past half century.
This is a novel I can almost not discuss except through superlatives: greatest war novel I have read, funniest novel I have ever read, greatest English language novel of the past 60 years. But the best thing is that it is, on top of being a superb book, an exceedingly fun book to read. Even at its nightmarish, this is a fun, delightful book. And few novels contain as many unforgetable moments as this one.
on March 3, 2000
I would first like to inform other reviewers that I am a high school junior, read this as part of a choice novel project, and had no trouble grasping the ideas that Joseph Heller presented within his Catch-22.
The sarcastic attitude of this novel is conspicuous, and all bonds with reality are dropped with the first character introductions. The humor that has previously been criticized I found to be easy to understand, not monotonous, and a unique aspect to illustrate WW2. This is not to say the humor is for all, because Heller uses many paradoxes (look up definition of "catch-22"), simple one line contradictions, and subtle word choices to draw a laugh-all which represent the personality of the novel.
Yes, there are many characters, probably over fifty, yet grasping the names is not important at all times. Of course you quickly get associated with Yossarian and the other main characters, and chapter do reintroduce people from the early parts of the book. This may be annoying, yet each character is distinct, and there is little chance of confusing Milo, and entrepeneur, with Havermeyer, the elite pilot. In truth, the novel lacks a linear time, but chooses, rather, to define the novel through numerous character sketches, focusing them loosely around Yossarian. By the later chapters of the novel, Heller subtly introduces the gruesome truths of the war, balancing the early humor with more realistic look. It is through this transition that the weight of the situation is elucidated, and by contrasting the final chapters with the first, Heller is able to attract our attention and force us to analyze the war.
What is the novel about? There is no simple answer, yet if I attempt to state it in a single sentence Catch-22's theme, it would be "The only true fault of America's once the war began, was that we as a nation began to glorify war, without truly understanding the implications of our actions."
What is the idea behind catch-22 as a statement? Read the book. Enjoy. Open your eyes with laughter and tears. Perhaps you won't like the satirical tone, but I would suggest to all that you try.
on January 14, 1998
When I was in high school, my English teacher introduced me to the absurdity of war. We were assigned to read "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by the great war poet Wilfred Owen. This poem refuted the "old lie", Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country. After reading this poem, I suddenly realized how wasteful and utterly senseless war is, especially for the unfortunate people who must put their life on the line.
One day, I was in a second-hand bookstore, and by chance spotted a copy of "Catch-22." I had no idea what the book was about, but once I started reading, I couldn't stop. This book, like Owen's poem, describes how frightening and pointless war is to the soldier. However, while Owen uses gory details to bring forth his ideas, Heller uses satire.
This book captures the personal fears and opinions of the troubled bombadier, Yossarian. He does not know why he has to be there, and he certainly does not want to die.
Yossarian stated that he didn't care if this opinion made the enemy happy. He said that the enemy is anybody who wants to kill you, and it was his superior who kept sending him out to get killed...This makes me wonder about the millions of soldiers throughout time, for this thought must have passed through some of their minds at some desperate point. The old men who instigate and plan wars are not the ones who will die. Rather, they send people out to die for *their* cause.
As you can see, this book really made me think. Yes, I thought, I laughed till I cried, then I cried for the senselessness of it all. Heller is a genius!
on July 21, 2006
For so many of us growing up in the USA, our high school teachers assigned us Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" as required reading, and I was among those assignees. I'm not sure why the requirement, other than perhaps some Catch-22 type of logic that everyone else was assigning it, so there, must be great, must read. I don't particularly remember liking the novel then, perhaps with no more substantial of a reason than -- just not my style. Reading the novel now, in midlife, my opinion (or my literary style) has changed little, but today, I can attempt to add to "not my style" perhaps a few deeper insights.
In this second read, I realize what so fails to appeal to me is Heller's slapstick, absurdist, repetitive and dizzyingly circular style of storytelling. At the same time, I fully realize this is also the appeal of the novel for many: it's absurdity. Indeed, time has tested Heller's topic of war having little logic or reason in the real world, mostly born of individual and governmental insanity, power plays and mere whim, male ego clashing and chest thumping. Few wars seem to have good reason for happening when one considers all the other possibilities of resolution. While leaders sit safely in secure offices on fortressed hilltops, the common soldier takes all the risks, offers up his/her body for battering, endures indescribable torments in battle, and often gives the ultimate sacrifice of life. Shall we debate the virtues of boxing rings for political leaders instead? Yes, war is absurd. And Heller captures this "crazy-making" truth in a crazy-making novel in which characters dance to illogical commands, spin in frustration, and dig themselves in ever deeper as they try harder and harder to dig themselves out. You know... as in war.
So I slogged through the pages like a good soldier. Characters leapt forward and backward in time, one event led to no other event, resolution rarely made a showing, and the dance of insanity kept the main lead. Even as I slogged, I could not deny what an excellent reflection of warring reality Heller's writing proved to be. Kudos for that. Redeeming factor.
And then, somewhere towards the final pages, I was somewhat won over. Without losing his voice of absurdity, the author had Yossarian, key player, say lines so absurd they rang true to the core, e.g. "but we don't want what we want!" and I could only shake my head and echo, oh indeed. We don't. When offered a bounty of temptations to sell out his soul, Yossarian denied them all, and in his crazy way, spoke utter sanity. How common is it to want something desperately much of our lives, only to realize we don't want it at all when fantasy turns into reality? A gold star for the author. Other episodes of Yossarian struggling to keep a fellow soldier alive even as his guts spill out, the sheer horror and despair and helplessness of the situation, hit target. Bravo.
This, and Heller's commentaries on man being little more than meat, fodder for the brutalities of war, resounded with such painful truth that today's reader can only look up at current events and current disasters and realize -- we are living in a world ruled by absurdities even today. History has taught us nothing.
And so, I could be convinced that Heller's novel is a classic. Perhaps it is.
on February 25, 2001
To be honest with all you gentle readers, I don't much admire War novels, nor do I stand by the title of my review. Generally, I believe War is truly Hell.
But last Winter, in the grips of a bout of quasi-depression-for-teens following a move to the most FLAT province in Canada, I truly thought I was in Hell. An e-mail friend suggested Catch-22 to use up edgy cabin-fever time. Now, let it be known that my attention span for most novels dwindles quickly, especially if the book is slow to pick up. While significantly slower to get 'into' than most of the writing I chase, Catch-22 sucked me in, like Alice down the rabbit hole. It is sharply funny, engaging, and chock full of delightful characters. The main character is a thinker; a young man disheartened by war and his own mortality. His name is Yossarian, and since reading this novel, he has stood out in my mind as being one of the most...sculpted... characters in the history of literature.
Put simply, this book is a satire about World War 2. Coming from a kid sickened by the very idea of war, I can say that this book is worth whatever bills you have to fork over for it. It's not about war, per se, but more about the human condition. In addition, it made me laugh a few times, something that only a few other works of fiction have ever been successful in accomplishing. I finished this book feeling oddly... renewed. If you're looking for something 'new' (or, so old it's new) and engaging, I heartily recommend 'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller.
on May 15, 2002
Catch-22 is not a book America wants to read, especially in her present state of patriotism. One cannot picture Heller's Yossarian sporting a "These Colors Don't Run" T-shirt and waving a flag. Indeed, the opening chapter explicitly refutes any interpretation that suggests Yossarian's actions are rooted in a deep sense of nationalism: an uber-patriotic Texan drives almost all the men out of a hospital ward and back into combat. Catch-22 is a book that challenges the logic of war. It combines wry humor with startlingly affecting anecdotes to force the reader into asking questions. It is the portrait of a man who is dangerously sane, but trapped in the insanity of war by catch-22.
When I started reading Joseph Heller's Catch-22, I had no idea what to expect. I scanned the buzzwords on the back cover..."apocalyptic, bitter, hilarious, monumental, original, subversive, classic." What I found was a moving satire, centered ..., an allegory who manages to retain his humanity. The fact that Heller's Yossarian was indeed so easy to relate to contributed to the book's power. The novel brings you deep into the world of war, as viewed by a soldier. Yossarian's experiences are not entirely realistic, and much of what happens over the course of the novel seems to make no sense at all. In presenting war in such a manner, Heller asks the reader whether the reality of war makes any more sense than does Yossarian's story. Heller says that war itself is a great catch-22, a paradoxical trap that humans walk into time and time again. He questions the logic of the illogical, and asks the reader to try and rationalize the irrational.
Catch-22 is significant because it claims that not only war is a catch-22. The metaphor extends to include life itself. We see that the characters are not merely fighting to survive the war...they are fighting to be immortal. Each has his own way, whether it be by enduring boredom to make time move slower, or by gaining global power through commerce and enterprise. They are all trying to cheat death. Heller's novel reveals many deep and often unpleasant truths, but it does it with humor and style. For this reason, Catch-22 has reached "classic" status and will probably remain a classic for generations to come.
As a book, Catch-22 is flawless. It is moving, witty, and ultimately one of the greatest novels I have ever read. It deserves every one of its five stars. However, to those who are interested in reading it, I warn you to take Heller's work with a grain of salt. Many may find the satire offensive in light of the current global situation. Please do not let current events get in your way. Catch-22 is a wonderful, eye-opening novel; but as with all "subversive" literature, it must be approached with an open mind.
on December 14, 1999
Joseph Heller died on December 12, 1999. Boy will we miss him.
There are only two ways to look at "Catch-22." One side believes that it is a demoralizing work that compromises the integrity and honor of the United States military. The other side argues that this is a classic work of fiction to be enjoyed by generations to come. Who is right?
Both sides are. I can honestly say that Heller's hilarious, upsetting, poignant, and disquieting work is one that I am proud to have in my library, even going so far as to say that it is truly one of my favorite works. Seeing as I serve in the US Air Force, one would ask, "How can you so thoroughly enjoy a book which so blatantly criticizes the military and all that it stands for?" To this I reply, "That's the point."
Stationed on an imaginary island off the coast of Italy called Pianosa, a disgruntled World War II bombardier is desparate to get out of the Air Force because he believes that everyone is trying to kill him. For most people, this plot wouldn't hold up in a 463-page novel, much less a short story! However, Heller's superior characterization (the squadron commanding officer's name was Major Major Major Major) and ability to make the most basic situation ironic (an aircrew member who is diagnosed insane is unfit for flying per Air Force regulations must actively request to be taken off of the flight roster, but if he is sane enough to make such a request, then he is deemed fit for flying) leads me to wonder why the book isn't even longer.
The characters will tear at your emotions like a Cuisinart. You will both love and hate them at the same time, especially the conniving Milo Minderbinder, who had his own squadron bombed to further the causes of his international black-market goods cartel, a cartel which he runs with the use of the squadron's planes.
Joseph Heller is now gone, but his legacy lives on. We salute you, sir, and your tale of Yossarian the bombardier shall never be forgotten.
on March 30, 2006
For starters, forget everything you've ever been told about novels. Joseph Heller's Catch-22 is in a category all by itself. This laugh-out-loud tale of an American bombardier during the second half of World War II redefines what a novel can be. Yossarian's tale leads you through a series of encounters with numerous characters which include the craziest of the crazy, sanest of the sane, and even a Major named Major who bears a slight resemblance to Henry Fonda. Heller gives you a hilarious commentary of sinister bureaucratic rule that is no less than marvelous.
The book takes place on the island of Pianosa (Pianosa is a real island, but Heller has taken the liberty to make it much larger for the sake of his novel) that sits off of the coast of Italy. Yossarian's main goal throughout the novel is to stay alive, or die trying. He is puzzled by the fact that millions of people that he doesn't even know yet want to kill him. His only hope is to be grounded, but the only man who has the power to do so, Doc Daneeka, refuses. Backing the doctor up in his assertion is Catch-22.
"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. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. 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. `It's the best there is.' Doc Daneeka agreed."(46) The concept of Catch-22 is an ever present theme, and its circular path of logic is referred to time and time again.
Joseph Heller does a wonderful job exposing the corruption in our society. We are graced with flashbacks within flashbacks, followed up with flash forwards and even more flashbacks. This highly illogical order of events could have spelled disaster. In the hands of a lesser author this hilariously satirical piece could have turned into a jumbled mess, but Heller commands the stream of consciousness in a manner that can only be described as genius. The events and stories don't fall into place until the end of the novel, at which point the fog is lifted and everything becomes clear. The circular logic of the Catch-22 is even apparent in his writing technique. "The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likeable. In three days no one could stand him."(9) Upon closer examination of the novel one can see that Catch-22 is a very serious piece of literature. Heller uses our sense of humor to expose us to a grotesquely cruel world with a blatant disregard for human life. A world not all that different from our own, shown through rose colored glasses, distorted just enough to miraculously provide us with a clearer picture. Through Yossarian's fight to survive, he seems to be un-patriotic by your grandfather's standards, but the tenacity in which he fights for what he truly wants he provides with a sick twisted role model. His ideals add to the corruptness of those around him. "`What would they do to me,' he asked in confidential tones, `if I refused to fly them?' `We'd probably shoot you,' ex-PFC. Wintergreen replied. `We?' Yossarian cried in surprise. `What do you mean, we? Since when are you on their side?' `If you're going to be shot, whose side do you expect me to be on?' ex-PFC. Wintergreen retorted."(59) As the plot continues to unfold, Heller provides you with a government that grows increasingly more evil. The complexity of the order of events keeps you glued to the text, if for no other reason than to be able to understand where Heller is heading with this story. As a reader we are provided with a surprise ending which in turn explains everything.
All in all Catch-22 is a literary masterpiece. It flirts dangerously with the line between humor and absolute horror. In a world infatuated by cruelty, inhumanity, and absolute carnage, Heller provides us with a new look on an old idea, the morality of refusal. In not accepting the rules associated with Catch-22, Yossarian is able to rise above the cruel world that he is a part of and gives us hope when all is thought to be lost. Catch-22 is a must read staple of contemporary literature, a masterpiece of its time.
Who is more dangerous to your sense of self-preservation, the enemy soldier who wants to kill you, or the superior officer who orders you into hostile fire? Joseph Heller took everything that is wrong and insane about war and bureaucracy and turned it loose onto the pages of CATCH-22.
Time does not progress in a linear fashion is this book. Characters that are furious when the minimum number of bomb-missions to be flown is raised to sixty are later appalled when it is raised to thirty. The pilots and crew are trapped in an endless circle of logic, time and red tape. Yossarian's attempts to preserve his life end with him exactly in the same place that he was before. Everything is structured so that escape is completely impossible. All the regulations and requirements keep looping around back upon themselves leaving Yoassarian with no options left.
The strange and bizarre characters that Heller created are really what give the book its teeth. Virtually every character has constructed a routine for himself (since this is set in the male-dominated military camps of WWII, just about all of the major characters are men) that distances him from the actual war effort. The leaders bury themselves into the deep sands of regulation and order, and grapple with tough problems like paperwork, the military hierarchy and organizing parades. The soldiers spend their time drinking, having sex with Italian prostitutes, getting into bar-fights or trying to get rich. What is interesting is that almost none of the characters even mention the opposing side in the war. CATCH-22's war is not about bravery or heroics, it is about selfishness and greed and insanity.
I disagree with those reviewers who have said that the order of the book appears random, as if Heller had written the book in a straightforward fashion and then merely shuffled the chapters around. With the book written in this way, we see the development of certain characters within their own bubble of time, freed from the distractions that other characters and their unrelated subplots would bring. It allows Heller to bring specific themes to the foreground when they are needed or let them sit in the background when they are not.
This is a really excellent book and I highly recommend it. I rate it at five stars because I honestly cannot find any fault with it. The book moves effortlessly from hilarity to tragedy while pausing only briefly to look at how the individual deals with the horror of war. Everything in this book is absolutely and hilariously absurd. One of Yossarian's friends, Milo, owns so many supplies and controls so much of the market that he is able to buy eggs at seven cents each, sell them at five cents and still run a handsome profit. A computer with a sense of humour decides to promote a man to major based purely on the fact that his last name (and his middle and first names) are the same word as the position.
This is a must read for everyone. The illogic will delight you, the humour will tickle you, and the reality of it all will scare the hell out of you.
Note: The Everyman's Library edition contains a new introduction by Malcolm Bradbury, a timeline for notable events in the period during which the book is set and the preface that Heller himself wrote for the 1994 re-issue. If you are planning on buying this book, I recommend getting the Everyman's Library edition, as the added features are quite worth it. Plus, it comes with one of those built-in cloth bookmarks that are so handy.
on June 19, 2000
Having recently read and greatly enjoyed Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny" and Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", I expected "Catch-22" to be a straightforward war novel. Boy, was I wrong, and pleasantly surprised!
There are two sides to the style of "Catch-22". On one hand, the character profiles and the bits of dialogue showing how the characters interrelate are hilarious. Heller's prose is as funny as P.G. Wodehouse's and even his wry style of humor is very similar to Wodehouse's. But Heller is not using humor to lighten the mood of war, nor is "Catch-22" merely humorous. The other side of the novel is its realistically gory portrayal of the atrocities of war (some of which are even the result of "friendly fire"), including detailed accounts of the sights, sounds, and terrors of flying in a World War II bomber aircraft.
Rather than present the plot in a linear, chronological fashion, Heller cleverly and innovatively cuts it up like a jigsaw puzzle and lets the reader put the pieces together. Only towards the end of the novel, relating Yossarian's sadness at the news of Nately's death and the events that follow, does the plot start to proceed a little more conventionally until Yossarian makes his final decision to escape his predicament.
If the novel has a theme, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's about the evils of rationalization; that is, the way people interpret and twist the logic and laws of authority or society to their own advantage. People's desire for power, status, and money results in excuses for military brutality and endangering the lives of others, and "Catch-22" illustrates numerous examples.