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The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

The Violent Century (2013)

by Lavie Tidhar

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1603112,633 (3.97)9



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The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar is one of those out-of-my-genre reads that I indulge in regularly. Tidhar imagines an alternate reality in which humans with special powers--superheroes--are conscripted for use by the Axis and Allies during WWII.

I was not a superhero comic book reader as a girl, was mildly interested in the Superman movie and television shows, saw some X-Men and Spiderman movies when my son was growing up. Early, I wasn't really in the flow with the novel. But there came a point in the book when the tide shifted, and instead of reading because I had committed to reading it, I was reading because I was truly intrigued and driven to read.

Tidhar imagines the creation of a machine that transforms humans, giving them superpowers, preventing them from aging but not from being killed. In Britain, The Old Man brought these misfits to a special school. Friendship circles formed. There is Oblivion who can evaporate objects and Fogg who produces a visual shield, and Tank, Mr. Blur, Mrs. Tinkle.

I'm here to take you to a special school. For special people. People like you. Where you will be happy, the Old Man says. from The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

During WWII, these Übermenschen were tracked down by spotters working for the Germans and Russians to be used in the war effort. Oblivion and Fogg are sent to 'observe' what is going on in Berlin.

They encounter others with superpowers, The Green Gunman, Frogman, Girl Surfer, The Electric Twins, Whirlwind, and Tigerman dressed in a bright costume, the Russians Red Sickle and the wolf man, and others who wreak havoc on behalf of the Nazis, including Schneestrum.

Fogg meets Sommertag--Klara--the daughter of Vomacht who created the transformer device; he realizes her power is unaltered pureness and innocence. Fogg falls under her spell. The novel centers around Fogg being called to account for a series of events after the end of WWII involving Summertag.

The history and atrocities of Nazi Germany and actual events inform the novel. Fogg's and Oblivion's school friend Tank is captured and used in Mengele's experiments at Auschwitz. Nazi scientists are repatriated to the United States, and war criminals tried and justice meted out.

The story leaps back and forth in time, revealing the back story of the men's boyhood in 1926 and school days in 1936, the war years, and later 20th c wars and events. Then, it leaps into the future, to the Berlin Wall, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and 9-11.

The superhero myth appeals in times of crisis; the first superhero comics came onto the scene in 1938. Hitler banned American comic books; he thought the heroes were Jewish. Superman's creators were Jewish. Superhero movies took off after 9-11, a time when America again needed heroes.

And throughout the book, the questions are raised. What makes a man? What makes a hero?

We expect a hero to rescue us. In real life, sometimes no one comes.

The publisher gave me access to a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. ( )
1 vote nancyadair | Jul 10, 2019 |
A prose book excellent for fans of Watchmen by Alan Moore, or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore
  ktoonen | Mar 31, 2016 |
I did want to like this, what's not to like about a book with a cameo from Stan Lee? Well it didn't really work for me, except in small pieces where I was entertained with the opium dreams etc.

An interesting idea where an experiment by a German scientist creates superheroes, just before World War II, this changes the war, but as there are superheroes on both sides they mostly cancel each other out. This is a story of one, Fogg, who is explaining his complicated history to his boss, the repercussions are interesting.

Had some clever ideas, I was dragged out of the story by the lack of quotation marks too often to make it truly interesting. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Sep 3, 2015 |
In retrospect, it’s an idea so obvious it’s remarkable it hasn’t been mined to death: superheroes as spies. Oh, sure, there’s likely a few attempts at combining espionage and extraordinary powers out there, but I’d bet a sum of money that the concept has never been as perfectly executed as in Lavie Tidhar’s thoroughly gripping superspy thriller The Violent Century.

Read the full review here. ( )
  ShelfMonkey | Aug 2, 2014 |

They’d never meant to be heroes…

In the 1930’s a German scientist, called Vomacht, performs an experiment that accidentally(?) creates “The changed”. The changed are kind of like the X-Men and exist in most countries. Our story concentrates on two of the changed called Fogg and Oblivion but along the way we get to meet a good many of them, on all sides. The story here is chopped into many little pieces and thrown together in an enthralling jigsaw. We often swap between the past and the present and yet there is a solid narrative thread running throughout. I am in awe of Tidhar’s skill with the story here and the believable characters, even though they each have superpowers. It helps that he concentrates on the British as the Americans are full in your face superhero types and the Germans are also Ubermenschen (as well as, on the whole, super-creepy). Oblivion and Fogg work for the retirement bureau and act, mainly, behind the scenes.

The world is lovingly detailed and we get to see the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s with an alternative history. Tidhar is playing with structure, playing with narrative and playing with conventions such as how dialogue is usually represented. He pulls it all off admirably. This is a tale, at heart, about people, which is a brilliant achievement considering it is full of ubermenshen. Along the way we get Nazi’s we get noir undertones, we get WW2 re-imagined, we get cool powers, we get a British superhero called Mrs Tinkle, we get Dracul in Transylvania, we get Auschwitz and Mengele and a book packed from cover to cover with great reading.

And yet the eye is drawn to the pictures, the bright uniforms in pixelated garish four-colour. There’s Tigerman, framed dramatically on top of the Empire state building, holding on to a cowering criminal mastermind. There’s the Green Gunman chasing outlaws in the wilds of Texas. The Electric Twins in Detroit capturing Al Capone. Fogg is mesmerised by the images, their brashness, their colour. It is raining on the Charing Cross Road. A grey morning, people hurrying past with black umbrellas over their heads. You’re a good watcher, Fogg, the Old Man says, his voice is in Fogg’s ears. We need men like you. Do not be tempted by the Americans, the loudness, the colour. We are the grey men, we are the shadow men, we watch but are not seen

Overall - This is the first of two books and I’m definitely impatient to be reading the second. Since this one isn’t actually published yet (I got it as part of my Hodderscape haul) I’m going to have to learn to be patient! ( )
  psutto | Aug 29, 2013 |
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"They never meant to be heroes. For seventy years they guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable friends, bound together by a shared fate. Until one night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart. But there must always be an account...and the past has a habit of catching up to the present. Now, recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, - a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms, of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields - to answer one last, impossible question: What makes a hero?"--… (more)

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