Thursday, July 27, 2006

Catch-22 'The crazy book'

"All over the world, boys on every side of the bomb line were laying down their lives for what they had been told was their country, and no one seemed to mind, least of all the boys who were laying down their young lives. There was no end in sight."

If I say Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” was a good novel, it will be much more than stating-the-obvious. It is probably the most famous anti war satire ever written. The central character Yossarian is fed up of the combat missions and wants to be out of the war. But every time he reaches the number of missions one should fly to be out of the war, the higher authorities extend the limit. So, he devices out all possible ideas to stay out! The story is full of crazy people, crazy thoughts, crazy deeds and ideas. By the time I finished the book, I was so accustomed to the word ‘crazy’, everything around me seems to be so crazy. The anti-war satire holds good for any organization based movement. Here it reminds me, Catch-22 is like Orwell’s “Animal Farm” – in the quality of being universal. In Heller’s war camp, people in the authority go to any level in ditching their subordinates to go up in the management ladder! Heller is very clever like the character Orr in his book. Orr acts very innocent and crazy but we realize later that it’s a self-imposed garb to stay clear of any suspicion from his fellow soldiers from what he does. Likewise, Heller creates a very rosy, comic picture of the war camp. The reader is able to easily relate to the characters with their ‘craziness’ and funny acts.

“Major Major had been born too late and too mediocre. Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was”

The most hilarious chapter of this novel is Yossarian’s travel with Milo, the chief cook to fetch the eggs from a small town of Italy. After reaching there Yossarian comes to know that Milo is the mayor of that town. In that journey wherever they go Milo is ‘something’ there – like Assistant Governor General, Sheik, President et al. Milo’s business fundas will make any investment banker run for cover! Finally when the reader gets emotionally attached to the characters Heller kills them one by one. Yet the book ends in an optimistic note and there is a sequel to it too.

After finishing the book I watched the movie so enthusiastically for it has so many good visual moments. But I was disappointed grossly. It was the worst film adaptation of a book I have seen. The characters are so lifeless. The hilarious situations became so weak and pale on screen. But there are some good photographic moments too in the film. When everybody shows “thumbs-up” before starting the mission, Yossarian shows his middle finger! “Citizen Kane” famed Orson Wells acted as General Dreedle in the movie.

Joseph Heller was an world-war veteran. He made friends with another world-war veteran satire writer Kurt Vonnegut. They had admirations for each other. They remained good friends till Heller's death in 1994. On Heller's death, Vonnegut wrote a wonderful poem in Nytimes. I quote it here:

Joe Heller

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller,
an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesteray
may have made more money
than your novel 'Catch-22'
has earned in its entire history?"
And Joe said, "I've got something he can never have."
And I said, "What on earth could that be, Joe?"
And Joe said, "The knowledge that I've got enough."
Not bad! Rest in peace!"

--Kurt Vonnegut

There is an interesting chat between Heller and Vonnegut arranged by Playboy. Read it here.

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