on January 30, 2004
Catch-22 tells the tortuous story of Yossarian, a WW2 bombardier, who starts to lose (or regain) his sanity after a member of his crew is killed during a bombing mission. As Yossarian loses more of his friends to enemy fire, bizarre accidents and strange twists of fate, the storyline becomes ever more convoluted and the characters ever more bizarre.
At its heart, this book is about how soldiers handle war. How they justify their actions and how they live with the constant threat of death or injury. Heller illustrates the confusion and senselessness of war by using bizarre events and crooked logic. The book is filled with black humor and quickly moves from one outlandish event to the next.
In my opinion, this book has two major weaknesses. The first, is one of the hallmarks of this book: Heller builds his sentences to suggest an idea, only to immediately contradict himself. I found this to be very amusing for the first 100 pages or so, but this style simply became tedious afterwards. The second problem is the book's non-chronological plot. Heller keeps skipping back and forth in time and this makes the book hard to read and the plot difficult to follow.
I found the book's real strength to be in its amazing and phenomenally well developed characters. Yossarian, Doc. Daneeka, Orr, Major Major and many more, are all extraordinarily alive and yet fundamentally flawed.
Did I enjoy this book? Yes. All in all, this is a book worth reading, but don't expect an easy read.
on December 23, 2003
I cannot think why it has taken me nearly forty years to read Heller's masterpiece. It lived up to all I had ever heard. The hero (?) Yossarian is desperate to get away from the insanity of war. The Catch is that he cannot convince the authorities of his madness because anyone wanting to get away from the war must be sane. This is the thread, which runs through the book. In the process we meet a host of bizarre, comic and tragic characters. There is the brilliant Major Major Major who will only allow men to come in and see him when he is out. In fact the higher they go the madder they get - Cargill, Cathcart, Dreedle and the wonderful Scheisskopf whose dream is to put his men in a parade. But for me the genius of the book is in the creation of Milo Minderbinder who manages to turn the war into an unrivalled business opportunity. Throughout the book there is the haunting spectre of Snowden - what really happened to him.
I cannot imagine that there is a more entertaining, more gripping and more powerful account of the insanity of war. Nobody should go through life without reading this.
on May 13, 2003
If you are looking for a book to sit down and read on a Sunday afternoon, "Catch 22" is not the book for you, however if you are looking for a book that will make you think, and is accompanied by off beat humor then "Catch 22" is the book for you.
The humor in "Catch 22" is not your typical slap stick humor. It is, however, a way to understand the crazy timeline in which the book is written, and a way to realize how crazy the characters really are. The book's humor shows the insanity of war. The humor in this book takes away from the reality of war. The book seldom mentions fighting, it is more focused on the characters getting out of the war, and the crazy action of the characters. Without humor this book would be extremely dry, and confusing. The humor however does not appeal to all readers.
Yossarian, as well as the other main characters in this book, are all stuck in a "Catch 22." Each way they turn, there is another obstacle preventing them from getting out of the World War II. Whether it be the rise of the missions required, or the increasing bureaucracy among high-ranking officials. There are examples of "Catch 22" such as this throughout the book.
The humor shows how truly crazy the characters are. One character, for instance, puts crab apples in his cheeks because he likes the way they feel inside his mouth. Can you image seeing one of our troops walking around with crab apples inside his mouth, and how comfortable with our army would you be?
If you are looking for a book to really stretch you mind, as well as make your stomach hurt from laughter then "Catch 22" is the book for you.
on May 3, 2003
For me, there is something a bit too unlinear about this novel: it seems a compilation of character sketches interpersed with a general "feel" for the military at the time. The pros are: character sketches detailed and funny; and an occasional paragraph of great comedic brilliance, which are SO wonderful that one keeps reading hopeful for the next one. The general anti-military feel for the novel was probably more attuned to the times in which it was written, we having seen in our times how necessary it is to have a military, and the noble sacrifices of military people. On the con side: the dialogue is unlikely in many places; the names of the characters very unlikely (as though pulled out of the too-creative hat); and a style that skims along a little breathlessly, as though punctuation amounted to grammatical error rather - what it really is - the finest point of style. And yet on the whole it is that wonderful, cynical American sense of humor that pulls it all off, just as it does for other American novels, such as Iacovelli's Lily Snow, Cheever's Falconer, and Henry Miller's naughty and otherwise sterile novels.
on February 16, 2003
I found the book, like a majority of the characters in Catch-22, crazy. Basically, after 80 pages, the story was still stagnating. There were plenty of quirky, rebellious characters but all the absurdity just didn't come together for me. Yeah, there was Yossarian who was paranoid about getting killed, Hungry Joe who yelled in his sleep, Aadvark the navigator who couldn't navigate... So?
I kept asking myself, what the hell were all of them doing? Where was the story going? Nowhere. The characters were simply busy being eccentric amidst the madness of war. Which perhaps was what Heller was trying to portray. Afterall, it was only 10 years after WWII when the book was first published and I guess it connected with a lot of readers then. The message behind the book is still relevant, no doubt - but apart from the anti-war and anti-establishment theme, I felt Heller didn't have much else to offer. Mildly humorous at times, but sadly, the storyline just didn't progress with enough purpose for my taste.
on October 22, 2002
Mark Twain said that a classic is a book that everybody praises but nobody reads. I'd like to add that a classic is often praised now because it was praised in the past. Some classics are timeless and can make their point in any period, but others are useful for a certain amount of time then lose their effectiveness. "Catch-22" clearly falls into the second category. When this book was written back in the 50's it was necessary to give the world a reaction to the mythology of World War II. The soldiers in the war were still being worshipped as perfect humans with a perfect love for their country and unlimited bravery and courage to save the world. Surely some of the soldiers were not so perfect and that's what Joseph Heller shows us in this book. In the character of Yossarian, we have a WWII soldier who was not the epitome of courage, but a slacker and malcontent who did everything he could to get out of his duty. But Heller takes this way too far as the book becomes an extremely repetitive parade of soldiers who do nothing but try to weasel their way out of service or stab each other in the back; and officers who are inept bureaucrats who are under-qualified for their positions of authority and are focused on their own self-interest rather than winning the war. With this never-ending parade of idiots, Heller not only makes the statement that some of the fighting men in WWII were not up to the stereotypical ideal. He keeps on repeating the implication that they were ALL unworthy. He makes this point early on but fails to expand on it other than beating it to death repeatedly. While "Catch-22" is still useful as a good example of non-conformist and subversive literature, it has aged badly. Some "classics" are relevant in any time period, but the era in which this book's points were truly necessary is long gone.
on February 14, 2002
This long novel took me awhile to finish but it was worth the effort. I gave up early on and came back to it after reading one good review after another. The first few hundred pages can be confusing and even dull. Heller's disjointed out-of order story telling technique is very hard to come to grips with. There are some entertaining passages even at the beginning but you have to slog through many dimwitted puns. There are some scenes that are quite funny. The best, in my mind, is a scene near the end, where Yossarian is offered the chance to go home by the Colonels that have been tormenting him. There's only one catch, he has to agree to like them, to be their pal, and say good things about them. This is unacceptable and he chooses instead to run away. Skip the puerile chapter titled "Major Major Major Major." The one joke of this insult to the reader's intelligence is the character's name: Major Major Major and the rank he is automatically promoted to on joining the army.
It gets better after the slow start and story begins to come together once you get halfway through. Yossarian, or Yo-Yo to his friends, is the unhappy and psychotic bombardier who is the central character of this non-story. He's afraid of dying and is upset that his superiors have repeatedly raised the number of combat missions he must fly before he can go home. His friends are killed while incompetent, evil people are promoted and prosper. The black-marketeers Ex-PFC Wintergreen and especially Milo Minderbinder get rich. He's haunted by the memory of a fellow flyer (Snowden) dying in his arms over Avignon.
Whether you think this novel is a good or not, it exists and many people who have never read the book are familiar with the title phrase. Heller uses Yossarian's situation to makes some points about the absurdity of war and, perhaps, of modern life in a Capitalist society. He points out that you are "free" just as long as you never actually want to use any of your freedom. It's interesting to see a depiction of American soldiers during WWII who have absolutely no patriotic or heroic feelings but are only concerned with saving their skin or perhaps profiting from the situation they are in. Mailer, in The Naked and the Dead, and other authors have expressed these sentiments better. This take on war and American society came to be the norm in the aftermath of the Vietnam War but it probably seemed very subversive when this book came out in 1961.
on May 6, 2001
In Catch-22, Joseph Heller uses a flashback structure and irony to make reader not only see how horrible war is, but Heller utilizes comedy to first make the reader laugh then have the reader be disgusted with what they were laughing at. Heller structures Catch-22 in a jumble of flashbacks of events and repetitions. Heller may first mention something very random at the beginning of the book, and make it seem like it's some joke. However, then later on in the novel he'll actually tell the situation behind the first mention of it, and it sickens the reader to learn what truly happened. For example, Yossarian, the main character in the book, has a "dead man" in his tent. At first this just seems to strengthen the opinion that Yossarian is insane. Heller repeats this use of the "dead man" all throughout the book until finally he tells the reader who the "dead man" really is. The "dead man" is a man named Mudd. Mudd transferred into the same squadron that Yossarian was in, but immediately went on a mission after he put his stuff in Yossarian's tent. He was killed on that mission, but his paperwork hadn't actually transferred him into the squadron. Therefore he was never actually in the squadron. That means his stuff still lies on one of the beds in Yossarian's tent, and no one can take it out because it's really not there. At first the reader may find the mention of the dead man to be humorous, but when the reader finds out the truth they feel disgusted with what they were laughing at. Another structural episode that is repeated numerous times throughout the book, deals with a man named Snowden. At first he is just mentioned, and once again this adds to the thought that Yossarian is insane. Then near the end of the book Heller tells the reader what really happened with Snowden. This graphic description of Snowden's death sickens the reader and once again enforces the purpose of the author to show how horrible war is. Irony also is very prevalent and purposeful in conveying Heller's message from the book. One instance shows how corrupt the management has become. The leaders of the squadron want them to go bomb a bridge to form a roadblock, or that is at least what they tell the men. The truth is they just want to get a nice picture of a "bomb pattern". They don't care that this will kill innocent civilians, all they want is their stupid "bomb pattern". It is ironic that the commanders don't uphold that decency of not killing people just for the fun of it when they should. They really don't care even if their own men die, just as long as they get some recognition. Another irony demonstrating how war twists things, happens through the chaplain. It says "the chaplain had sinned, and it was good". This is ironic because the chaplain is supposed to uphold some sort of righteousness even in trial, and now when he sins it is good. A paradox that also portrays how war really messes people up is the fact that Yossarian thinks that everyone is "trying to kill him". At first this statement seems ironic, but the more the reader gets into the book the more truth it has. Not only does the enemy try to shoot Yossarian down, but his own commanders are trying to kill him by making him fly more missions. Colonel Cathcart, the leading colonel of the squadron, keeps raising the number of missions therefore giving more chances to everyone else to kill him. In an indirect way the colonel tries to kill him, and according to Yossarian so is everyone else. War has made him paranoid, and it destroys any sort of faith in goodness or even any kind of truth. War has completely warped everything that he is. Heller's purpose is to show how terrible and twisted war can make a person.
on April 9, 2001
Catch-22 was a very confusing book to read at times. I thought it was really fun to read about the insanity of war and what a person thinks of war. In my opinion war is crazy I would not want to be in a war for anything in the whole world. I could not imagine myself flying in an aircraft over a battle zone bombing things, and risking my life for my country many times. That is what the main character of the book did he was Yossarian. Yossarian was my favorite character in the book, because he understood how crazy the war was and he really didn't want to be in it. Many times he tried to get away from where he was stationed but the commanding officers would not let him leave. Yossarian made a lot of decisions throughout the book whether or not to leave the army or to stay, and he was always looking out for the most important person in his life and that was him. That related most to me, because I think of myself as the most important person in my life, and I would do whatever it took to make me happy. Not to say I wouldn't help other people, but I would look out for myself first and for most. I thought the book was very funny. The author Joseph Heller used very funny language throughout the book. His diction is what made the book so great. He made the readers see how insane war really is, which I think is really good for young people to figure out, before they get involved with the army or navy. Think how crazy you have to be to fly a jet over a place that is being bombed and try to dodge missles being fired at you. To me that would be insane and to Joseph Heller that would be insane also. I couldn't imagine myself ever wanting to go to war. People might say well your dying for your country and you have to do this to protect us, well there are other ways of solving disagreements with other countries. Every character in the book was very realistic. I thought that the soldiers were all very scared to die, and they wanted out. I wouldn't' blame them. Overall this book was really good, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a book that has the insanity of war in it, without the violence and the graphic descriptions. Some parts were confusing to me but for the most part I understood the whole book. I would read a Joseph Heller book again.
on July 4, 2000
This book makes me feel like it's trying to trick me into thinking that pointless killing is a bad thing. It talks to me as if I am 100% convinced that pointless killing is actually a good wholesome thing, a proper thing for countries to do in their spare time.
As a result, I feel like I have to constantly try to think of reasons why war is good. This makes me feel dirty. I don't like that.
Yossarian isn't particularly likeable, although he does feel about as passionately against the idea of dying for one's country as I do. This makes me think that I am not particularly likeable either. I don't like that either.
In fact, I didn't much like this book. Some of the sentences were really funny, but it didn't really make me think. A book that talked about why war was a great and funny thing would be more interesting because I might actually have to think about the points they were trying to make rather than just nod my head and say, "yup, that's right, right again, yup yup".