Set in the closing months of World War II in an American bomber squadron off the coast of Italy, Catch-22 is the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he has never even met keep trying to kill him.
Author: Heller, Joseph
Title: Catch 22
This book is about the absurdity at the heart of “the human condition”, that you are here and then you’re gone, alive then dead. In war, when these airmen are constantly under threat of instant death and survival is a matter of luck this situation is more absurd than usual. Heller uses this craziness to comic but also very poignant effect. It seems plausible enough that heller’s funny take on war gets closer to the reality than any number of mediocre ‘serious’ books.
I read this more than 10 years ago but I still remember the wonder of Yossaarian (and me at the time) confronting the vulnerability of men, even in their prime, in this “man is matter” passage:
‘He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all’
I came across another few relevent bits on wikiquotes:
‘They couldn’t dominate Death inside the hospital, but they certainly made her. behave. They had taught her manners. They couldn’t keep death out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady. People gave up the ghost with delicacy and taste inside the hospital. There was none of that crude, ugly ostentation about dying that was so common outside the hospital. They did not blow up in mid-air like Kraft or the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, or freeze to death in the blazing summertime the way Snowden had frozen to death after spilling his secret to Yossarian in the back of the plane.’
‘There were lymph glands that might do him in. There were kidneys, nerve sheaths and corpuscles. There were tumors of the brain. There was Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There were fertile red meadows of epithelial tissue to catch and coddle a cancer cell. There were diseases of the skin, diseases of the heart, blood and arteries. There were diseases of the head, diseases of the neck, diseases of the chest, diseases of the intestines, diseases of the crotch. There even were diseases of the feet. There were billions of conscientious body cells oxidating away day and night like dumb animals at their complicated job of keeping him alive and healthy, and every one was a potential traitor and foe.’