An extraordinary find. Managing to be both archetypal and contemporary, this fierce, sour tale, written with an echo of the gorgeous austerity of the ancient Greeks, ranks with the finest of war-writing.
â€œHero is as much an idea as a location,” its moon-surface deserts relieved by pungent olive trees, from which come the region’s fabled soap, its acrid air spiced with the smell of strong coffee. Hero is Hugh’s imagined battlefield (Middle Eastern? North African? Mediterranean?) but, more importantly, the very soul of war. Seven years long, epic contest â€œThe Great Uprising” has overspilled three nations, its instigators (â€œthe New Barbarians”) hoping to â€œdestabilize The Empire to the point of collapse.” Peopled by warriors boasting tragic, legendary names–Hektor, Antigone, Sophi, Hollow Bones–the land is in a constant conflict whose causes and outlines are insidiously unclear. Drawn back to this savage, exotic outpost from the boredom of reporting celebrity gossip, Teheda, a wizened war correspondent straight out of Joseph Conrad, hunts a mystery/scoop–the assassination of the sad-eyed rebel martyr known simply as â€œThe Commander” and the fight, between foreign invaders and insurgents, over his hallowed or hated corpse. Groaning under allusions to the Intifada and the IRA, to Anbar Province and shell-shocked Saigon, to Algeria’s freedom struggle and all colonial revolutions, Hero is the metaphorical home of every bollixed, Byzantine struggle over land or blood or, in this case, ridiculously, soap. Faceless repression–in the form of â€œThe Authority” or â€œCentral Information Division”–attacks eternally the human, the young, the vulnerable: â€œâ€¦I discovered that the face of war is a child,” writes Hugh. â€œInnocence is first lost among the young.”
Poetic. Unforgettable. And in the company of Hemingway, Wilfred Owen, Ernst Junger, Curzio Malaparte and T.E. Lawrence.