Pianosa, Italy

After several days of moving, garage sale hunting, and relaxing, I’m finally home for the summer and ready to write. I’ve begun my summer reading list (Howl’s Moving Castle topped the list), but I need to finish up my school novels before I can move on to summer ones.

Pianosa may seem like a rather exotic location for a twentieth century American author, but it begins to make sense when you find out the author of the novel is Joseph Heller, and the title is Catch-22.

A synopsis:

Pianosa is a small Italian island where the United States has stationed men at the close of World War II. Yossarian, the main character, and his comrades/friends are pilots. Yossarian is plagued by the deaths of his friends and a need for self-preservation. He believes that everyone else is crazy and constantly tries to find a way to get sent home. Yossarian’s friends die and disappear frequently. Finally, he refuses to fly any more missions.

My synopsis is weak, but the reason is that it is difficult to produce a summary of this novel. Heller’s main theme is the insanity and absurdity of war, which is quite apparent as Yossarian deals with his own problems and the deaths of his friends, as well as inane commanders. He presents the confusion and frustration of the men through his organization of the novel, which is not chronological. The way the reader can track events is by paying attention to the minimum amount of missions that the men must fly before they can be sent home. Other than that, it is very, although intentionally, disorganized.

It is because of the novel’s organization that I did not enjoy as much as some of the other anti-war novels we read. Heller has a delightful sense of humor (my personal favorite was Lieutenant Schiesskopf), and his characters have depth, but I like to know the order of events. I like books that flow.

His themes, however, are well done. He presents a humorous and, in some cases at least, accurate depiction of those in higher military ranks, a sobering look at the effects of war on men, and an intriguing critique of capitalism through the character Milo. It’s worth reading the book just to be enraged at him and the bad name he gives men and capitalism.

As far as anti-war novels go, I would recommend The Sirens of Titan over Catch-22, but there is a reason why this novel has been in the top ten of the most influential novels of the twentieth century in multiple critical lists. Heller does an excellent job of criticizing war and using satirical humor.


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