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The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar
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The Violent Century (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Lavie Tidhar

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2671288,273 (3.83)11
"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)
Member:psutto
Title:The Violent Century
Authors:Lavie Tidhar
Info:Hodder & Stoughton (2013), Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:2013 challenge

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The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar (2013)

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The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar. Tachyon edition ARC reviewed for Netgalley.

Let's say there really were super heroes. That some event created people with powers far beyond any of the rest of us, all over the world. And then the world went to war. What would that be like? What would change? Would the men and women with these powers be human, like the rest of us?

This is the central idea of The Violent Century, the exploration of that great "what if". It asks the questions, explicitly, what makes a hero? What makes a man? I am not sure that it answers them, but it goes deep. It digs and gouges, searching for something. For meaning.

This book is more than another take on the "man behind the mask" trope. It is a paean and an elegy, a love letter to heroes, and a lament at the painful need for them, especially in this last century-the violent century.

Lavie Tidhar is Jewish. This is important. This is important because many of our greatest heroes were born of the Second World War, and were born of Jewish artists, some of whom themselves fought in this war. Stan Lee. Jack Kirby. Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster. Jewish men in America who created heroes to fight enemies that seemed unstoppable. Some of these men actually appear in the novel, and speak of the need for heroes. This is not subtext. It is text. Europe needed Heroes. It got men and women, who might have been heroes of a sort. And millions died.

The heroes in this story are also men and women. They drink, the weep, they cry and fail and die. They have extraordinary power and extraordinary responsibility and still mess it up sometimes. But they try. And they go on, and sometimes the get to find a thing that might make a man. They find some love, perhaps. This might be an answer.

Then there is the structure. The Violent Century is not written like a Novel. It is a comic book with no pictures. The sentences are short. Broken. Sections are into scenes rather than chapters. Descriptions are vivid and dynamic. There are no quotation marks. The dialog runs into the narration because there are no speech balloons to mark it. Again, this is not subtext. It is text, explicit in the story. Eventually.

It is effective.

This book is haunting, and challenging, and exciting. I read it and I will read it again. I am grateful for the chance to review it for Netgalley, but I will buy the book and I will try to see if answers are to be found within, because I think I would like to know what makes a hero and what makes a man. ( )
1 vote JimDR | Dec 7, 2022 |
The Violent Century combines super-humans and fantasy with actual historical events to create an intriguing adventure story.
Much of this fantasy/superhero adventure loosely recounts actual event from WW II and well into the Cold War. The names of actual historic figures parade across the pages in actual historical situations that make the reader wish the fantasy heroes could have been real and could have intervened.
Events include Hitler’s early years and rise to power and his ruthless betrayal of the people who got him there, an encounter with Josef Mengele at the death camp at Auschwitch, several events in the Cold War, the trial of Adolph Eichmann (told using a fictional character’s name) and events that took place in America’s immoral “Secret War” in Laos orchestrated by the CIA, among others. In fact, all of the actual historic events present one nation or another acting in immoral and reprehensible manners, allowing the author to make moral commentary in a manner that is not didactic or preachy.
It helps in reading the book to have some knowledge of the actual events the book fictionalizes.
The fictional super-humans of this novel are created from regular people with certain proclivities which are amplified through a mysterious, never to be replicated process in order to capitalize upon their strengths. They exist on all sides of the wars, and often encounter and battle against one another. Some are “good” and others are “evil,” depending upon which nation they serve.
This genre of fiction does not usually attract me, but I constantly strive to expand my own reading interests and gave this book a try. The book seems well-written and even includes some innovative writing I admired. The use of phrases instead of full sentences early in the book helped propel the plot forward and created a sense of movement and action. The movement from one time period to another and then to still another used to tell the story delivers the storyline with clarity. The main characters of the story, Fogg, Oblivion and the Old Man, each have superior strengths and the author does a good job of making them credible (within the framework of fantasy fiction), consistently adhering to the characteristics the author has assigned the characters. For example, Fogg remains somewhat timid and unsure of himself even when he puts his superpower into action.
I have to admit that I did admire the quality of the writing but I also became impatient with the plot and felt it dragged in places, making me anxious to simply finish the book and move on.
If I were a lover of fantasy fiction or of superhero fiction, I would be glad to have come across this book. However, this book did not change my mind about not particularly caring for this genre. ( )
  PaulLoesch | Apr 2, 2022 |
Disappointing story from the often excellent Tidhar. The setup is interesting--Übermenschen (supermen and women) are created by a machine created by a German scientist. The story follows two of these closely--Fog and Oblivion--who share adventures from World War II to Vietnam. But this isn't really an alternate history of the 20th century with superheroes, because very little changes. Having a superhero lead the Israeli Raid on Entebbe is pretty meaningless, since the quite-human Israelis did well enough. Nor does it change World War II, Vietnam, etc., or the Cold War since each side has its own superheroes. So it becomes more of a personal story of how these unwilling Übermenschen have to live out their unaging lives. Tidhar is a wonderful writer, of course, and he sets scenes better than anyone. Whether it is a snowy WW II Russia, Transylvania, Vietnam, Laos, or postwar Berlin, you'll almost feel like you are there. But the story just isn't enough to carry the whole book. In the end, it was a great tour, but I feel cheated of meaning. Needless cameo appearances by the likes of Alan Turning don't help matters.

The audiobook is extremely well read, however. ( )
  datrappert | Jan 8, 2022 |
This book came highly recommended and I was looking forward to reading it. The basic premise of what-if there had been superheroes during WW2 is hardly original but I was expecting a fresh take on it. That story may be in here, but I couldn’t find it. This was mainly due to the staccato prose style that seemed to be a mix of unfinished movie plot synopsis and half thought out authors-notes strained through one of Alan Moore’s infamously voluminous comics scripts. The result was for me an unreadable mess that left me unable to finish. The one thought that kept running through my head was if the author wanted to employ a script type approach then they should have gone that route and developed this as the graphic novel it seems it is struggling to be. ( )
  gothamajp | Feb 13, 2021 |
An alternate history in Wild Cards territory as if it was written by John Le Carré. In the mid 1930s a quantum device built by a German scientist is triggered. The resulting wave changes some people into Übermenschen - basically superheroes, We follow a group of British superheroes through WWII up until the new century.

An oddity of a novel - the action skips up and down the timeline, and it's effectively a cold war novel. The British superheroes work for an espionage operation, and the hero is spotted by Arnold Deutsch (well known in spy circles) when he was up at Cambridge. I found the non-linear story a bit hard to follow, but it meant that it was relatively easy to pick up and put down the book.

OK but I doubt I will read it again.
  Maddz | Mar 17, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Though The Violent Century is never particularly emotionally engaging—Tidhar’s typically choppy style and rapid scene shifts preclude an emotional immersion—it is a brilliant novel of ideas.
 
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To Elizabeth, my own perfect summer’s day
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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?"--

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