Catch-22 (Heller)

Peter Heller, 1961
Simon & Schuster
540 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781451626650

Fifty years after its original publication, Catch-22 remains a cornerstone of American literature and one of the funniest—and most celebrated—books of all time. In recent years it has been named to “best novels” lists by Time, Newsweek, the Modern Library, and the London Observer.

Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him.

But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.

As revealing today as when it was first published, this brilliant novel expresses the concerns of an entire generation in its black comedy. World War II flier John Yossarian decides that his only mission each time he goes up is to return—alive! (From the publisher.)

Yossarian is a paranoid American bombardier stationed off the Italian coast during World War II who believes that everyone is out to kill him. Fearing he will be killed during a bombing run, Yossarian takes desperate measures to avoid flying, such as checking himself into a hospital with a fake liver condition and moving the bomb line on the map of Italy, which postpones the bombing mission to Bologna.

Yossarian and his comrades are in a Catch-22: They can be grounded on the basis of insanity; however, if they ask to be grounded because of insanity, their concern for their safety proves their sanity.

While Yossarian’s desire to get out of the war is the story’s focal point, Heller’s satirical narrative also relays the antics of Yossarian’s comrades—the men of the 256th Squadron—and positions those antics amid such themes as war, hypocrisy, justice, death, government bureaucracy, and greed. Teeming with Catch-22 situations, the ultimate "catch" for Yossarian is a test of his own integrity. Should he stand by truth and face court-martial or should he turn his back on his comrades and become a hero? (From the publisher.)


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