Monday, June 28, 2010

Yossarian's struggles

Read the novel Catch 22 last week... Many people from shelfari had recommended this book to me. That is the main reason I searched and found this anti war novel. And it turned out great! The novel is written by Joseph Heller and when it was published first in 60s there was very limited backing from critics.. Months later when it got published on paperback it went on to become a huge best seller.

Catch 22 is the story of Yossarian, the Chief bombardier of American airforce unit ('Officers, You are American soldiers! Soldiers in no other army can claim that!')
stationed at Pianosa near Italy. Seeing his friends dying in war field and his war duties not getting over in the near future. Every time some one from his unit finishes the prescribed number of missions, superior increases the limit. And every effort of Yossarian is thwarted by a fictional rule Catch 22. Yossarian tries to fake madness, but his friend Doc Deneeka cannot ground him...In Heller's own words:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. 

The novel became so famous that Catch 22 became a phrase in American English. Even though it is a war novel, the story of fight against Germans there is not even a single German enemy. The novel is a caricature of bureaucracy, which can turn any situation absurd by unnecessary complications and people who uses it to their benefit cleverlyby creating loop holes in it. Col Korn uses it to stop people asking disturbing questions in military classes by making a rule that the only person who can ask a doubt is the person who never asks doubt. So when anyone tries to ask a doubt he automatically does not have the right to do so...

Another important character is Milo Mindbender who is the mess officer and who buys eggs from Malta and sells it to messes for cheaper rate. But he actually buy eggs from Italy for cheap rate and sells to himself in Malta and buys from himself from Malta and sells it to mess. Thus finally makes a huge syndicate promising every one a share and  becomes wealthier and wealthier and ultimately becomes Mayor, Caliph, and what not in different places were he trades...

The style of the novel is peculiar in the sense it does not have a chronological narration. Several clues and references are given to the future events, and it is left to reader to imagine at what time line the story is taking place at a point of time. Any major event is repeated many times, through different point of views and only finally the reader gets a complete picture of the plot. Also the characterization and events are very witty and observations are quite contradictory... Like the Texan in hospital bed who was so likable and good that after three days none could stand him. or the dialogue:

When Major Major asks why he wouldn't fly more missions, Yossarian answers:"'I’m afraid.'
'That’s nothing to be ashamed of,' Major Major counseled him kindly. 'We’re all afraid.'
'I’m not ashamed,’ Yossarian said. ‘I’m just afraid.'"

Catch 22 and Something Happened

After Catch 22 Joseph Heller wrote his second novel Something Happened almost after a decade. I had read it before. It transfers the same style of story telling to the life of hard core professional building the American Dream in 70s. Although it was a great in showing that professional greatness in a corporate world will be achieved only by sacrificing a healthy personal life, I found it a tad too boring with 500 plus pages. If it was abridged to  novella of 100 plus pages it would have been excellent.

Catch 22 and 1984

1984, Orwell's well read book of an  apocalyptic world were corruption has reached to gigantic proportions and the whole society is built on it and where society itself acts on people who tries to resist it, is very similar to catch 22. But 1984, is too dark and almost becomes too pragmatic, mechanical and propagandistic with very limited imagination displayed... I would at any time prefer Orwell's Animal Farm that is far too parable like, wittier and better written.

Catch 22 and The Good Soldier Svejk

Good Soldier Svejk
The Good Soldier Svejk is a Czhek novel written by Jaroslav Hasek, which is also based on the tries of a lone soldier to avoid war. I read Catch 22 because many people told me it is better than the latter which I had read before. But I feel Svejk is much more funnier and more anti war than Yossarian. It is a loosely written novel without any plot techniques. But Svejk is against war, is a selfish rascal who uses his wit to deceive his superiors and makes asses out of them, while Yossarian is more idealist who wants to get out of army mainly because he has completed his quotta of missions.



  1. I'm a first time visitor. I liked the review especially the part you compare it with other books. Neatly done and thanks for the review.

  2. thanks dude.. ur site too rocked...

  3. Nice review. I love Catch-22. I think its an absolutely brilliant novel that has managed to survive through decades.

    Haven't read The Good Soldier Svejk. Thanks to you, will get to try it out now! :)

  4. Hello Harish, liked reading your blog especially your take on Catch 22. It's one of my favourite novels. You might also like Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy by douglas adams.