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Catch-22

A satirical historical novel by Joseph Heller

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Catching 22 Twice

  • Jul 21, 2006
Rating:
+1
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.

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More Catch-22 (book) reviews
review by . September 05, 2008
Heller's classic is a surreal and sprawling story of immoral naivety and moral complexity. Ostensibly about the absurdity of World War II combat, Heller examines issues of group think and individual obligation with surprising philosophical clarity.    The Catch-22 that Yossarian, the erstwhile hero of our story, encounters maddeningly and repeatedly is any insoluble contradiction, expressed in his case in this infinite loop:     A. Yossarian realizes that …
review by . May 23, 2010
Catch-22 is a hilarious satire set in wartime.  The main character, Yossarian, is a bombardier who is terrified he’ll be killed every time he goes out on a mission.  Everyone thinks he’s insane, but he is arguably the most sane character in this book.  All he sees is the futility of war.  Surprisingly, he does not approve of people in high places gambling with his life.  Heller’s style here is very unique; I haven’t read anything like it before.  …
review by . June 13, 2010
When I moved to the US and wanted to read more American literature, the novel that people recommended to me most often was not, as I had expected, Moby Dick (which few seemed to have read) but Catch-22. Now I have finally got around to reading it and (unlike with Moby Dick) was not disappointed.    The anti-hero, the anti-war sentiment and the black humor are all very characteristic of the 60s, especially 60s Britain, so it is not surprising that the novel was popular there before …
review by . June 08, 2010
This is Joseph Heller's novel about World War Two, highlighting the absurd nature of organized a "civilized" conflict.  It features a protagonist who refuses to go on missions because he believes people are "trying to kill him", an altruistic colonel who demands valor from his men as he lounges at camp, and an entrepreneur who somehow can buy eggs for 5 cents apiece and sell them for 3 at a profit (?!) (read to find out about this one).      This …
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
Really great satire! It's a hilarious and completely engaging read!
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
Okay because of the story and the original word Heller conjured for the dictionary, but too modern. why do modern authors (since about the fifties) think that vulgarity is a required element in a story?
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
slow at the start, but keep reading!
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
heller writes well and gets his characters so involved in military snafus they cannot get out of trouble without getting into more trouble to start with
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
I LOVE the characters in this book
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
Funny, just plain funny
About the reviewer
Zinta Aistars ()
Ranked #135
I am a bilingual writer and editor; founder and editor-in-chief of the literary ezine, The Smoking Poet. Learn more about me on my Web site--I welcome visitors!
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Catch-22 is a satirical, historical novel by the American author Joseph Heller, first published in 1961. The novel, set during the later stages of World War II from 1943 onwards, is frequently cited as one of the great literary works of the twentieth century. It has a distinctive non-chronological style where events are described from different characters' points of view and out of sequence so that the time line develops along with the plot.

The novel follows Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, and a number of other characters. Most events occur while the airmen of the fictional Fighting 256th (or "two to the fighting eighth power") Squadron are based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy.
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Details

ISBN-10: 0684833395
ISBN-13: 978-0684833392
Author: Joseph Heller
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Polls with this book
1984 (British first edition)

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