The Violent Century – Review

The Violent Century

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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, they 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 they 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 cut 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.

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