Yossarian is, or course, the paranoid protagonist of Catch 22, the book that gave Joseph Heller eternal fame. As a marketing gimmick tagging Yossarian to the book’s title is a masterstroke by Erica Heller. Unfortunately, this book reads more like her autobiography and the story of Joseph Heller’s wife and mother-in-law. Anyone looking for an insight into the mind of an author who created memorable characters like Milo Minderbinder, Major Major Major Major, Orr, Lieutenant Scheisskopf, Major –de Coverley, General Dreedle (with his nurse), Chief White Halfoat, Doc Daneeka etc, will be sorely disappointed.
Sadly, according to his daughter, the author comes across as a nasty, egotistical (like Yossarian), gourmandizing, philandering and venal character. The photos in the story show a genial fellow rather than an ogre. I found the character of Erica to be flawed and not Joe Heller’s.
One would have liked to know how Catch 22 came to be written and how the story evolved. All one gathers from the book is that Heller too was a bombardier in the US Air Force and served in Italy during WW II. Another glimpse offered is a discussion about the numerals that would follow ‘Catch’. It could not have been the original 18 as Leon Uris’ Mila 18 had just been released. Other numbers that were bandies about were 27 and 539. Finally, the editor form Simon and Schuster came up with the nondescript 22, which, suffixed to Catch, would become a byword of our times. The economic benefits of the book are portrayed in detail by Erica Heller along with the favourable impact on their lives.
A redeeming feature is reminisces of interactions of authors like Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Christopher Hitchens (who, as a tribute, adopted the title Hitch-22 for his memoirs) with Joseph Heller.
There is an unexpected and revealing twist at the end.