“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller

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“Catch-22” figures high on the list of mandatory literature for my last year in high-school. So as any other compulsory read, it was pretty low-prioritized, giving way to amazing novels whose reviews would soon be published. However, one day as I was browsing through, perhaps, the only independent bookstore in my town, I serendipitously lit upon an old copy of the book. Its cover was slightly battered and its pages were yellowed and stained with marks of the years gone by.

It was love at first sight.
The first time I flicked through its pages, I fell madly in love with it.

“Catch-22” is no ordinary book. The arrangement of the novel is extraordinarily cunning! The words: consistency, chronology and succession do not apply to its case. All the events are jumbled up and the story is held together by myriads of tenuous strings of iron-clad associations which are revealed solely to those who persevere till the end. Yet every sentence is astounding in its meaningfulness and pertinence to the motives in the novel.

“Catch-22” is not merely a thrilling read, but a fascinated puzzle in which so as to connect dots you should start after you’ve finished.

Yossarian is a 28-year-old soldier in the Air Force squadron on the island of Pianosa who is quite agog for the prospect of being grounded. He spends most of his days lying in various hospitals, feigning non-existent symptoms of unheard ailments so as to evade combat duty. He takes World War II to heart and is convinced that everyone is out to kill him: “Strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them and it wasn’t funny at all.”

Faced by the inevitability and finality of death, he is going out of his way to defy the implacable bureaucracy, its malign exertion of control over all troops and its grandiloquence in order to preserve his personhood. “He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt.”  Everything he does is out of sheer selfishness, yet he proves to be one of the most reasonable and honest men in his squadron.

As the story unravels, the deterioration of moral values, the blurred contours of right and wrong, the accumulation of unpunished delinquencies and the despicable distortion of truth during the time of war are becoming more and more blatant and shocking. The distrust and havoc that rule over the hearts and lives of all men are emphasized by the disarray of the novel itself. The more dialogues we witness, the more conspicuous the hypocrisy of language and deeds become. The ambiguity of words when used as weapons by the blindly ambitious bureaucracy is juxtaposed with the impotence of the tongue when coping with the stark reality. “There, there” is an effete consolation when life is slipping out of you.

And in all the misery, doom and hilarity, paradoxes spring up like mushrooms. “Anything worth living for is worth dying for.”  However, among all the self-contradictory nonsense that the characters utter or detect, Catch-22 is the most abominable. It is an illogical, paradoxical curlicue of reason that entangles its victim in its loop of irrationality and serves those who comprise the judiciary. Catch-22 is also present implicitly in the stories of all the characters, apart from the clearly defined unwritten laws.  It is an underestimated, and often neglected, part of all our social conventions, inveigling us to conform to society’s expectations despite their anachronistic or desultory aspects.

But the novel “Catch-22” exudes hope. It attests coruscating that any crazy bastard can  contest and overcome the insanity life challenges us with.  “It’s better to die on one’s feet that live on one’s knees.”

Mery

Mery

“City of Masks” by Mary Hoffman

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The chance to go or see another world does not come to anyone. But in Mary Hoffman’s book series those lucky people are called stravaganti. With the help of talismans the time-and-space travelers have the opportunity of visiting XVI century Talia, the equivalent of our Italy. The adventure starts in the city of masks – Belleza. Yes, you’ve guessed right, it is the mirror image of Venice. But don’t be deceived – there are a lot of things that differ and not all of them are for the better.

Lucien Mulholland is a teenage boy who is suffering from cancer. Due to his chemotherapy he has little energy and spends most of his time in bed. Everything changes when his dad brings him a notebook that seems to be vintage Italian. Little does he know that the moment he falls asleep, clutching his new possession, Lucien is transported to the beautiful city of masks. There he finds himself healthy and free of the bounds of sleepiness and tiredness that seem to control his life in 21st century London.

The thing is that in Belleza Lucien runs into the pretty Arianna and together they are flung in a vortex of uncontrollable events. Nothing is what it seems and danger is around every corner. The two friends must be very careful who they trust. The main enemy is the Chimici family who has the ambition of controlling the twelve city states in Talia. The city of masks adores the Duchessa as a leader and that fact puts the ruler in quite some dangers. It is up to Lucien and his master – Rodolfo (who is also a stravganti and the Duchassa’s lover) to protect the independence of Belleza.

Can young Lucien handle all the pressure from both of his lives? The trouble comes from his sleepless nights which are spent in the wonderful Talia. At home he feels even more tired and sick while in the city of masks he has almost unlimited energy. There will come a time when living in two worlds will be impossible and our brave hero will have to face a very difficult choice.

The atmosphere of Belleza is absolutely unique. The canals that snake their way in the city are full of mandolas that are all guided by handsome young men. For a girl it sounds like a dream come true. Another interesting thing that is a characteristic for this part of Talia is the law for masks. A woman who has reached the age of 16 must always wear mask until she is married. Needless to say the Duchessa’s face stays hidden all the time from her people. This has helped her on more than one occasion.

It seems that for a boy like Lucien the choice is quite easy. But the beautiful Belleza does not have the luxuries of the modern world. Also his parents are not there. And while he is threatened by death in his world, Lucien has the comfort of parental love, which nothing can substitute. What will happen – read and find out.

Mary Hoffman creates wonderful and thrilling books filled with plot twist and unexpected turns of events. If you want to escape in a world of treachery and deceit, beauty and danger, love and hatred – the Stravaganza sequence are the novels for you. Don’t hesitate and see for yourself the adventures of Lucien and his fellows in arms.

Sophie

Sophie

“Every Day” by David Levithan

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After finishing “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” I was impelled to read a novel by David Levithan. Little did I know I was is in for a pleasant surprise. “Every Day” is an aberration from the usual narrative. It offers a glance at life by the same person but through different eyes. Its phantasmagoric plot lures you out of plain old reality into an enchanting story of love, courage and many secondary characters.

A wakes up in a different body in a different life every day since the day A was born despite his/her will. A doesn’t have a gender or parents. A couldn’t even dare dream of personal belongings. All A has is an email account to preserve the memories of each day in the life of a new person. “Knowledge is the only thing I take with me when I go.”

A never interferes. A adheres infallibly to schedules, chores, tendencies and attitudes. If A ever hijacked your life, you probably wouldn’t figure it out for it would have been yet another day of school, homework and responsibilities.

A has come to terms with that life: “After a while, you have to be at peace with the fact that you simply are.” Until Rhiannon, the girlfriend of a boy, A is for a day, comes along. Then everything changes for love has a subversive way of turning frowns and lives upside down.

A and Rhiannon’s impossible love story demarks the dimensions of love. It reinforces the romantic ideal that we fall for a person because of their charming character and not because of their attractive appearance. People connect at a spiritual level – through the buoyancy of pop songs; through the familiarity of books, read long ago but part of us ever since; through snatches of repartees of our favourite movies and through the enormity and eternity of the moments spent together.  

A’s constant alteration of gender and weight challenges Rhiannon’s attitude but not for once does it diminish her feelings. “It’s almost heartening to think that the attachment you have can define your perception as much as any other influence.” This banishes the physical from the equation of love. It proves that love is not an inevitable act towards the preservation of our species and the rectification of our gene pool. On the contrary, love is the indefatigable willingness to prevail over the innate urge of self-protection and to sacrifice one’s own welfare for the sake of another’s happiness. It is the reluctance to let go and saying goodbye, nonetheless.

“If you stare at the center of the universe, there is a coldness there. A blankness. Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other.”

Admittedly, I thought that the love story interfered with A’s unfortunate, yet compelling destiny. I was outraged because A yielded his/her principles and embroiled the people whose body he inhabited in this implausible slushy predicament. However, the end made up for most of the slushy paragraphs. It was so tragically beautiful, it made me weep buckets during lunch in McDonalds.

As I witnessed A’s travel across states, towns and integument, I sympathized with his/her privation of consistency, boredom and belongings. We often complain that we are stuck in a rut – routines having conquered all compulsion of diversification. However, we usually fail to comprehend that this tedious and repetitive aspect of our lives serves as anchor in a world which is perpetually flowing, twisting and moving on. We may not belong in school, among people, or in home, but we do belong among our peculiar habits and strict schedules. We tend to neglect the value of the routines and unchangeable duties we take for granted in life.

“Every Day” deals with a large scope of problems – sexuality, depression, suicidal propensities, young love and integrity. It is an outstanding novel which through its own incredibility proves that anything imponderable could be accomplished.

Mery

Mery

“Graceling” by Kristin Cashore

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Is it true that all superheroes are men? Are qualities such as bravery and courage associated only with the male part of the society? I think not. And I was happy to find out that my opinion is shared by amazing authors. When I started reading ‘Graceling’ I already knew that this book was something special. The protagonist is a woman – the young and beautiful Katsa. Kristin Cashore portrays her heroine as the person you would like to read a novel about. And the background is more than exotic and interesting.

In the Seven Kingdoms there are people called gracelings who are blessed with a special skill. They are easily recognized for their eyes are mismatched and colored differently. Also they are feared by all and exploited by rulers who claim property on those whose grace is usable. Katsa lives in the palace of her uncle where everyone avoids meeting her blue and green gaze. But her grace is repulsive even to her for she is skilled in killing. The king abuses her powers and frequently sends her to punish and torture anyone who displeases him. Not a very blissful way of living.

But when she meets prince Po, the handsome young graceling fighter who has an even more intimidating stare than her, Katsa learns there is more to life. And that is when everything changes. The lady killer will discover something new about her grace which will alter her view of the world. But before that she becomes friend with the man who has one eye golden and the other one silver coloring. The two of them embark on a journey to uncover a secret lying very far away. A secret so well kept that it could destroy the seven kingdoms on its own. But this is all I can say about the plot without giving anything away.

Through the eyes of Katsa the reader can experience the difficulties for a woman to survive in a men’s world. Even though the lady killer can shut out her emotions, sometimes her vulnerability gets the better of her. Also the model of a woman at that time in a place such as one of the kingdoms is that of a housewife. And Katsa could never come to terms with living in a cold and lonely castle, giving everything up to raise the children of a man she may not even love. Kristin Cashore gives her readership an independent and valiant woman who doesn’t fit in society’s role for her. And that’s all right. When she is not content with the road set out for her, Katsa has no problems to make a new path on her own.

It is important for women to know that they could be anything they want. If a girl decides she wants to be boxer or a sword fighter or a football player, she should be, no, she must be. If that is what she really wants. And her choices do not make her less feminine. Being a ballet dancer or even the so dreaded by some – housewife- do not make a woman something less. Making the big decisions – that’s what makes a woman something more.

Kristin Cashore gives us the opportunity to see a girl struggling with the needs of her surroundings alongside with hers. We see Katsa breaking all boundaries with only her inner strength. For being a lady killer does not help when it comes to the wanderings of the heart. To find out more about this lovely character read ‘Graceling’.

Sophie

Sophie