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A satirical historical novel by Joseph Heller

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Unique and compelling

  • Jun 13, 2010
  • by
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 American readers warmed to it. Unlike other anti-war works of the period however, this one was written by a veteran and based on hard experience, rather than - as was more usual at the time - by someone who had never experienced war and was determined never to do so.

The movie versions of this and MASH were both released in 1970. The latter was released first and was a much better movie, and so Catch-22 remained under the shadow of MASH for some time, and perhaps still does. Readers familiar with the MASH movie and TV series, who read Catch-22 now, may not have the same sense of novelty that the early readers had.

The events of the story are to some extent modeled on Homer's Iliad (and to a lesser extent The Odyssey) which Heller was reading at the time he wrote Catch-22. It's not essential to know the Iliad in order to enjoy this story but, if you don't, you'll miss a lot of the references and not get the most out of it. Having said that, there are plenty of other references - literary and mythological - and I'm sure I've not picked up anywhere near all of them in one reading.

Interestingly, the title has become part of the language with a meaning that is not strictly reflected in the book. Catch-22 as a 'no-win situation' is described early on, but the phrase recurs throughout with a more general meaning, that of an arbitrary and even fictitious rule. As so often, the novel does not really say what people who have never read it think it does.

The continual use of paradox - paradoxical judgments, contradictory statements and situations, and so on - can sometimes become too contrived and can sometimes fall flat. It may be overdone for some readers' tastes. But on the whole it works very well, giving the book the appropriate ironic tone throughout.

The structure of the story is extraordinary. The same events are related many times, from different perspectives, providing layers of narrative that finally reveal the whole picture. As part of this continual retelling, the phenomenon of déjà vu, and related phenomena, feature in the story, both implicitly and explicitly. The timeline is thus non-linear, going back and forth continually. The result is a unique and compelling literary experience.

This is a profound, funny, often disturbing novel that should be near the top your reading list.

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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 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
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
One of the most amazing books I've ever read.
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About this book


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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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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"Catching 22 Twice"
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