Joseph Heller takes us on a fascinating journey back to his upbringing in a poor Jewish neighbourhood in Coney Island, through his World War II experiences as a bombardier in the American Air Force, to his life as an internationally acclaimed author. He tells of his tough upbringing during the Depression, and of the affection he retained for the kitsch, ragged, down market Coney Island of his youth. He describes, in intimate detail, his first love Luciana, and writes about the people and events, both tragic and hilarious, he was to translate into such memorable characters as Milo Minderbinder, The Chaplain, Major Major Major Major and the unforgettable Yossarian. In NOW AND THEN we are afforded a privileged insight into the mind of one of the twentieth century's greatest literary talents.
The sharp wit and sense of life's essential absurdity - which you would naturally expect from the creator of Yossarian and Major Major - is clearly present here. The spirit of Yossarian lives on, especially in a wonderful episode which has schoolboy Heller queueing up among a gang of contemporaries to squeeze a girl's breasts. The book is filled with similar weird and amusing events. It is as a sketch of a life and of characters and incidents from it, that this really succeeds. Heller is particularly good in his descriptions of his Brooklyn childhood; conveying brilliantly the smells, sounds and sheer excitement of summer days, when crowds washed over Coney Island like the waves they came to see. As Phillip Lopate put it in The New York Times, the 'literary lion roars, scratches himself, schmoozes, boasts, grouses, provides pointers and, most of all, remembers.' (Kirkus UK)