Book Review

The Human War by Noah Cicero

The Human War by Noah Cicero

The Human War by Noah Cicero (Fugue State Press) is an odd, rather simple little book, this isn’t to say it’s not a good book, because it is a good book - it’s just rather odd and simple as well, that’s all. What first struck me about The Human War is its relentless attitude from beginning to end - it exudes heaps of it for such a slim little thing. For instance, just read Cicero’s dedication before the book even begins:

“For Melinda - if she gives a shit”

It kind of left me thinking she better had. Who knows what would happen if she didn‘t? Or maybe it was the first two sentences in the opening paragraph that hit me (I say paragraph rather haphazardly here as there aren’t any to speak of in The Human War - just continuous rapid, machine-gun style sentences):

“Two hours till war.

It’s six o’clock. Bush said at eight, people must die.” (Pg 11)

The book follows Mark, a disaffected American youth who could be any disaffected youth the Western World over. He possesses all the signifiers. Mark likes sex and drinking, he isn’t too sure about commitment or the world in which he inhabits. What he is sure of however is how wrong the impending invasion of Iraq is. War, and the perpetrators of it: humans, are the sole root of his burgeoning misanthropy. He hates the humans who are told to hate, he hates the humans who believe in war, but mostly he hates our fascination with war:

“Turn on the war.” (Pg 15)

Mark mockingly asks this on many occasions whenever a TV is in the room, scornful of our mordent obsession with war - how it creeps into our living rooms, shopping malls, bars as a form of mass entertainment to be watched on a screen, to comment upon like it’s a football match, a subject the multitudes can belong to, can collectively bond over. Mark’s view of the American hordes is that of war-thirsty, drooling, nefarious, religious zealots, myopic robots hell-bent on carrying out Bush/God’s work by blitzkrieging Iraq and its people into oblivion. He sees no sense in this behaviour what-so-ever; his voice becomes increasingly detached and vociferous with every development leading up to Bush’s eight o’clock deadline. This stripped bare prose is powerful and poetic in its simple execution and Cicero must be praised:

“People will die.

I’ve never met them.

But I’m sure.

They had hopes.





They had people who loved them.

But they must die.” (Pg 28-29)

Mark is thinking of the people of Iraq here, and throughout the entire novel it is the only time he refers to humans compassionately. Humans as victims interest him; humans as aggressor don’t interest him in the slightest:

“Humans are an unhappy animal.” (Pg 31)

Mark is of lower class, he is without money and a job. His parents give him five dollars a day for coffee and cigarettes. America doesn’t care about him and he knows it never will. So he entertains himself with alcohol, sex and strippers:

“I want to go out with a stripper.

I think it would be cool.

You know.

Even though I’m ten times smarter than them.

And it would never work.

Because I would be thinking about Dostoyevsky.

And they would be thinking about coke.” (Pg 78)

There is obviously an element of Holden Caulfield about Mark, which is unavoidable I suppose. What is refreshing about him though is the vitriol he possesses for his homeland and the people it has purposely moulded into the drones around him. America and its obsessions has driven him to despair, it has turned him not only against Bush and God but his very own species. Mark sees no way out. He can never escape this thought, so he gets drunk and he gets angry, knowing it is not the solution. Never, I feel, has that old prose poem by Charles Baudelaire haunted a book so much:

“You have to be always drunk. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time…” ( Be Drunk )

The Human War is an odd, simple book with a powerfully simple message: that war, all war, is wrong. And although it is simple and odd in its idiosyncratic tone it is also right in every conceivable way. Noah Cicero’s little book, for this reason alone, is clear and free of pretension.

-- Reviewed by Lee Rourke on 25/11/2005

Further Information
ISBN-10: 1879193116
ISBN-13: 9781879193116
Publisher: Fugue State Pr
Publication Date: 01/09/2003
Binding: Paperback
Number of pages: 90

Readers Comments

  1. Ronnie James says... Saturday 26 April 2008

    I really like this book and I like Noah Cicero, he's a writer who feels no need to flex his literary muscles, preferring to pitch his misanthropic words straight for the heart of the reader, he doesn't care about adverbs, pastiche, irony, but he's one of the most compassionate, realistic writers out there and you gotta commend him for that.

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