are not too many books that have provided new phrases for the English
language. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 (ISBN 0-09-947731-9, 1961, Random House)
is one of the foremost.
There are also not too many works of fiction hailed by the Observer as, “The
greatest satirical work in the English language since Erewhon,” or from the
Financial Times, “Blessedly, monstrously, bloatedly, cynically funny and
fantastically unique. No one has ever written a book like this.” Neither of
these publications is known for hyperbole.
The book describes some American Air Force flyers on a small island off
Italy during WWII. The initial chapters introduce the main characters, led
by Captain Yossarian of the 256 Squadron, a five star coward, but lovable as
he is quite happy to admit to not enjoying this war. Yossarian has a dead
man in his tent, a new recruit who died before being signed in. Therefore,
from the Air Force point of view the man was still in transit, having left
his previous camp, but had not signed in to this new one!
The ‘catch’ called Catch 22 is also shown to the reader early in the novel.
This was first seen in regard to the personal safety of the airmen. If they
were crazy, they were excused from further missions. However, if they didn’t
want to fly more missions, this was totally understandable, so they were
quite sane. The catch was then that if they were sane they had to fly the
Other characters introduced into the plot includes Doc Daneeka, a physician
who was doing well while his opposition in the suburb were called up for
national service. “I don’t want to make sacrifices. I want to make dough.”
And describing him as “A very warm, compassionate man who never stopped
feeling sorry for himself.”
Milo the Mess officer is charged with supplies and manages to buy eggs for
seven cents an egg and then sell them back to the mess for five cents and
yet make three and a quarter cents an egg profit through the most
complicated series of financial exchanges that would have Warren Buffet and
Donald Trump totally confused. Milo ends up running the war, with co-opted
planes carrying contraband and booze.
Adding to the farce is the owner of an Italian brothel, who explains how he
went from Fascist to anti-Fascist, to pro German to pro American and then
demonstrates that by losing wars, the country is better off than winning
them. In real life, this has been borne out many times with the vanquished
winning the peace after losing the war.
So there you have it. Available through Amazon and one of the books that in
many ways changed the world and the way that the world looked at itself.
Each time you read it, you will find gems you missed the first time round. I
cannot beat the review by the Observer which described this book as
“Hilarious and tragic, at the heart of Catch 22 is a savage indictment of
twentieth century madness, and the desire of the ordinary man to survive