I have finished the 77th book for the book challenge. It was Catch-22: A Novel by Joseph Heller.
This is a classic comic farce, a masterful anti-war book. It pokes fun at the entire military establishment. Set in World War II on a small island off the coast of Italy, it is comprised of an amazing cast of characters. It centers around Captain Yossarian, a bombardier who does not want to fly any more missions. We meet him first in the infirmary where he insists that he has a liver condition and also insists that he is insane and cannot fly any more missions. But there is the catch-22. If you are crazy, you would be grounded. But as soon as you are grounded, you’d be considered sane and have to fly again. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really insane.
The other characters we meet are Milo Minderbender, the mess officer, who runs a powerful black-market syndicate. It covers all corners of the global. He ensures everyone that everyone has a share, that everyone will benefit, but his operation costs lives as he removes medical supplies from planes to make remove for his supplies. Then there is the evil Colonel Cathcart, who keeps increasing the number of missions that everyone must fly. When we first meet Yossarian, the number of mission is at thirty-five. By the end of the book, Colonel Cathcart has slowly increased that number to eighty. The men can never reach their goal and can never go home.
Orr is Yossarian’s tent mate. He is always making the tent more comfortable. He is also always getting shot down. He’s crazier than Yossarian. Doc Daneeka is the first person to explain catch-22 to Yossarian. He has interrupted a lucrative practice back home to serve in the military. Dunbar feels much the same way Yossarian feels. He wants to shoot Colonel Cathcart and wants Yossarian to help him. Hungry Joe willingly flies the number of missions; he is also a photographer. He has terrible nightmares when he doesn’t have missions. Huple’s cat sleeps on his face. The Chaplain tries his hardest to get Colonel Cathcart to let Yossarian out of flying so many missions. The Chaplain also wants to put a stop to the horrible form letters he sends out to the deceased airmen’s relatives.
Yossarian goes out of his way to try to save Nately’s whore and her kid sister in Rome. Even though Nately’s whore is trying to kill him. Nately was killed in a mission and Yossarian feels badly about this, as he feels badly about Snowden, Kid Sampson, McWatt, and all the rest of his friends. He is the last one left.
The colonels and the generals make a deal with Yossarian and tell him he can go home if he says nice things about them. Yossarian is seriously considering doing this. He ponders whether or not to fly eighty missions or to say nice things and go home. Then Orr turns up in Sweden. Apparently he has rowed there in his dinghy when he was shot down. Yossarian thinks he could do that too. There is still hope.
This book is a comedy, yet it has some tragic elements. All of Yossarian’s friends meet tragic ends. He is left alone in the end. Alone to fly eighty mission. The colonels and the generals have their own agenda. They only care about numbers, not about the lives of the men in their command. Milo only cares about making money for the syndicate. It is really a sad thing. You feel so sorry for Yossarian when he is trying to save Nately’s whore and her kid sister.
This is a masterful book. It is difficult to explain. Each chapter is a character study of one of the people in Yossarian’s unit. You learn about their lives in each chapter and learn about their deaths as well. You see as each one is torn from Yossarian’s life. It is both funny and sad. Heller has written a fabulous work that entertains but tugs at the heart-strings as well.