5 Must-Read Satires

5 Must-Read Satires

These five biting, thought-provoking, and profound satires should be added to your to-be-read list.

1. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass

“The greatest German novel since the end of World War II, The Tin Drum is the autobiography of Oskar Matzerath, thirty years old, detained in a mental hospital, convicted of a murder he did not commit. On the day of his third birthday, Oskar had “declared, resolved, and determined [to] stop right there, remain as I was, stay the same size, cling to the same attire” (striped pullover and patent-leather shoes). That same day Oskar receives his first tin drum, and from then on it is the means of his expression, allowing him to draw forth memories from the past as well as judgments about the horrors, injustices, and eccentricities he observes through the long nightmare of the Nazi era. As that era ebbs bloodily away, as drum succeeds drum, Oskar participates in the German postwar economic miracle — working variously in the black market, as an artist’s model, in a troupe of traveling musicians.

“With the onset of affluence and fame, Oskar decides to grow a few inches, only to develop a humpback. But despite his newfound status (and stature), Oskar remains haunted by the deaths of his parents, afflicted by his responsibility for past sins — and so assumes guilt for a murder he did not commit as an act of atonement and an opportunity to find consolation.The rhythms of Oskar’s drums are intricate and insistent, and they lead us, often by way of shocking fantasies, through the dark forest of German history. Through Oskar’s piercing, outspoken voice and deformed little figure, through the imaginative distortion and exaggeration of historical experience, a pathetically hilarious yet startlingly true portrayal of the human situation comes into view.”

2. The Sellout by Paul Beatty

“A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality―the black Chinese restaurant.”

3. The Chameleon Shuffle by Jere Krakoff

“Is he Liberal? Or is he Conservative? The highest judge in the land can’t make up his mind.

“After languishing in The Depository for Foundlings and other Discarded Children, Leonard Zweig is adopted by staunch Conservative lawyer Milton and pious Liberal lawyer Miriam Zweig.

“When the Zweigs launch a secret program to indoctrinate Leonard in the dogma of their respective sects, his impressionable adolescent’s mind bifurcates, causing him to involuntarily oscillate between Liberalism and Conservatism every few days—an affliction he can’t shake even through law school and eventually municipal judgeship.

“Meanwhile, the Republic is mired in a judicial crisis. To stave off a leftward shift, Benito Ionesco, Leader of the Conservative-controlled legislature, searches for a viable way to end the crisis. Fortuitously, his secretary has recently read about Leonard’s ideological switching in a tawdry tabloid.

“Will the Liberal Chancellor be willing to nominate a part-time Conservative to the highest Bench in the land? And if Leonard is confirmed, will he be treated as a pariah by his colleagues? Or will an aversion conditioning program leave him with a single ideological bias? This satirical novel hilariously exposes our current political climate, judicial system, and leaders.”

4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

“Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.”

5. Good as Gold by Joseph Heller

“Bruce Gold, a middle-aged, Jewish professor of English literature, finds himself on the brink of a golden career in politics — and not a moment too soon, as Gold yearns for an opportunity to transform a less-than-picture-perfect life: His children think little of him, his intimidating father endlessly bullies him, and his wife is so oblivious that she doesn’t even notice he’s left her. As funny as it is sad, Good as Gold is a story of children grown up, parents grown old, and friends and lovers grown apart — a story that is inimitably Heller.”

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THE CHAMELEON SHUFFLE by Jere Krakoff