If you’ve ever felt that the world is going down the drain and everyone is a big jerk, then Catch-22 will let you know you’re not alone. Set in World War II, on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa, this is a story of a disillusioned bombardier, Yossarian, trying to survive and make it home. Avoiding enemy fire is just one challenge of military life. Yossarian is under the command of greedy opportunists, incompetent fools, bold-faced liars and impossible bureaucrats. Not one of them would ever put himself in harm’s way, yet all of them happily send others to death in order to keep up appearances and cash in. On top of that, Yossarian must navigate madmen in his own ranks, fly dangerous missions without a parachute, and avoid a grieving prostitute. He sees his friends disappear one by one, and loses hope of returning home, as Colonel Cathcart continually raises the number of missions the men are required to fly. Yossarian is trapped: the only way to be sent home is to be found crazy, but if you want to stop flying missions and go home then you can’t be crazy—it’s Catch-22.
This book is witty, well-crafted and hilarious. It is also overwhelmingly cynical; when I was feeling depressed I found it therapeutic, but when I was happy, Catch-22’s negativity made it too much of a downer. When I was grumpy I threw the book at the neighbourhood stray cat as it walked through my yard. The novel makes a fine, weighty projectile, and proves yet again the genius of Joseph Heller.
Though set in war, Catch-22 is relevant in peacetime, and resonated with me even though I am a civilian. There are times we all feel mistreated, ripped off or forgotten by our superiors, the government, or the world in general. Yossarian has to decide whether it is better to die and receive honour from those who care nothing for you, or live and earn their scorn. It’s like my old boss telling me I should be glad to work overtime for free because it helps the company that employs me—what was the wisest thing to do? In hindsight, probably not letting the air out of his car tyres.
Catch-22 looks through a bleak lens, but it’s first class writing and top-notch funny. At the end I couldn’t put it down. 8/10
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