book : Joseph Heller | Catch-22
song : The Rolling Stones | Paint It Black
“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”
My grandfather was a soldier. And all my father did throughout his young age was to mimic his old man, hence the huge love of combat stories. He told me once to watch Catch-22, the movie, not because of the bloody action but more because it showed the audience—to quote him—the mentality of a war. As overambitious as I was, I decided to read the book instead of watching the movie, and this took me quite a time to finish (read: a whole year). And my first thought afterwards: my father was right.
It was toward the end of World War II in a small island called Pianosa. The Army Air Forces sustain a squadron of bombers, soldiers that were never remain on either air, sea or land. The story introduces you to Yossarian, the enervated protagonist trying to escape his unending missions. He then one day makes up his mind to go…. loony—and this is not a figure of speech.
- Why? because the flight surgeon is impelled to ground anyone with mental deficiency.
- Meaning? Yossarian can’t stand to stay any minute longer in that war.
As I stated previously, this book strikes me as deviant and more than a tad inauspicious. The larks by those lampoonographic squadrons were far more unhinged than any war fiction—or any fiction for that matter. Thus, the ending of the story is anything but sedative. This is a new—but depraved—king of comedy. The book speaks merely about bloodshed, it highlights the idiosyncrasy of our way of life and the distorted values from a system it based on. The true atrocity Joseph Heller exhibits is not within the bombing assignments but imbue the whole entangled anatomy of authority. After reading a few reviews about the book, I understood that readers in 1960s might connect with the story even more due to its germane time frame. However, reading it in 2000s gave me a more vast outlook on halfwitted preconception of war.
As the prominent critic, Nelson Algren, once said that Catch-22 is: “..not merely the best American novel to come out of World War II, it is the best American novel to come out of anywhere in years.” Throughout the book, Heller mulled over two topics: horror and humor. Seemingly an odd couple, he manages to cook them into one sumptuous illogic. Yossarian lures me as those—though slightly cordial—characters in Kafka’s writings. A German novelist with a profound relationship with Nazi regime (having his sister killed in its concentration camp), Kafka’s people in his books were full of resentment—in a great way. By that reason, comparing Heller and Kafka is like comparing apples and oranges. Here, Vietnam war is identified as pseudo-immortal massacre. The narration caused a collateral expansion which made the book recognized widely as its precise figurative portrayal. And amid the pages of Catch-22, along came one of my all-time favorite quotes:
“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.”
PS: I don’t think I’m gonna see the movie since I’m sure it would never do the book justice.. :)