Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Take: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

I always heard about this great classic but never got around reading it until recently.

As a kid I remember my father reading a lot of books. He would proudly say 'I know the English I know today because I read books". He always encouraged us to read books and no wonder, all of us - five sisters - are very fond of books. I thank my father for inspiring me to have love towards great writers and great books.  I grew admiring his huge bookshelf stacked will all the classics like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Bronte, Shakespeare, Twain and so on. I really looked forward to reading them and attempted quite a few as well when in school.

There was something about reading the same book read by my father. It was a special feeling . I would admire the lines he'd underlined and try to put myself in his shoe and think about what he must have thought when he read that particular part. I would notice the dates he'd scribbled in the front and the place he'd purchased the book and try to figure out his age when he read it.

One time while I was trying to find books with lot of pictures, I stumbled upon a copy of Catch 22. What attracted me was the big 22 number in the front. While I flipped over though I did not find any pictures inside I found a comment written by my father about the book which struck me. I never got around reading it as a kid because I did not understand anything. It however, held a special place in my heart because I knew it had made an impression on my father.

After nearly 15 years, when I saw a copy of Catch 22 on a book shop near Tafalgar Square in London, my childhood memory flushed fresh and I finally bought a copy. Since I was busy studying for my MA, I never got around reading it. After finishing my Masters and returning back to Nepal I finally found it among a pile of clothes and that's when I picked it up to read it after nearly 1 and a half years of purchasing it. 

Catch 22 - my observation:

Catch-22 (Catch-22, #1)Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I nearly felt like quitting the book after 150 pages but I am very glad I finished it. It requires an effort to read this book especially in the beginning and I will confess that I had problems with the writing in places. What I liked about this book is the 'Tragic Humor". I say tragic humor because there are a lot of funny moments in this book with hilarious character descriptions and dialogues that make you laugh but these moments do not last long for tragedy sneaks up on you. The very fact that the whole comedic incidences happen in a corrupt bureaucratic system and the helpless inability of the characters who behave the way they do out of frustrations make you sympathize them and suddenly you are not laughing anymore. The characters look ridiculous and crazy in the context of war and the fact that the shady bureaucracy makes things worst for them make you even question the very basis of war.

Heller is very descriptive about his characters and characters there are a lot, which can be a bit boring and hard to keep track at times but it is what makes the story so good. Each character is different and unique. Further, the story seems to be laid chaotically like the author bluntly hints about his character’s demise very early even before the character is introduced in the story. And while you begin to read about that particular character and his story, you feel sorry for him. You nervously and dreadfully read not knowing when that moment of his death will come making you drawn more to the particular character.

The book revolves around the theme ‘catch 22’ which is a situation that you cannot get out of and most of the time this situation is based on illogical reasons. This book is satirical towards war and reveals the corrupt military system through the characters.

Yossarian, a bombardier from US Army squadron during WWII, stands up after the missions are raised again and again even after he has flown 70 combat missions to self-centered bureaucrat like Colonel Catchcart. All Yossarian wants is to save himself and fears that he will die like the rest of his friends if he flies one more time. Though in reality he has done his duty he is still forced to do extra work because the people above him want to make an impression and advance in career. This is where you really sympathize with this character when he is trying his best to stand up against the corrupt system and gets caught in 'Catch 22' unable to get out.

All in all, this book is an anti-war novel and it's about bureaucracy, war, life and death. Though I found the character Milo who ran a black market and manipulated everyone to support his M&M enterprise interesting, I despised him later especially in the part where Snowden is about to die and Yossarian is trying to save him. When Yossarian tries to give Snowden morphine he cannot find it because Milo has smuggled it. Instead of morphine he finds in the first aid kit a note signed by Milo that says 'what’s good for M&M enterprise is good for the country'- This scene is very sordid and heartrending. I respected the character Orr for his farsightedness and how he manages to give Yossarian hope at the end. On the whole the book has left me bittersweet.

View all my reviews 
Perhaps reading the same copy of Catch 22 that my father read would have been more special but nevertheless I know now why this book made an impression on him. It has made and impression on me as well. It is a master piece and I recommend we all read it!