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Berlin Book Two: City of Smoke (Bk. 2) Paperback – August 19, 2008
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“A comic of impressive scope, taking place in Weimar Berlin and touching on the issues of politics, aesthestics and technology in that cultural ground zero.” ―San Francisco Chronicle on Berlin Book One
“[Berlin] will be the longest, most sophisticated work of historical fiction in the medium. Lutes has a natural, clean, European drawing style, much like Hergé's Tintin . . . This book has the density of the best novels.” ―Time on Berlin Book One
About the Author
Born in 1967, JASON LUTES is an American cartoonist whose work includes the ongoing Berlin trilogy, and the graphic novel Jar of Fools.
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Top Customer Reviews
I'm fascinated with the use of comics for historical fiction because the addition of visuals can do so much towards giving us the flavor of an era, something that's hard to hold in our minds since our own era is so different. It's has the maturity of a novel, but with the added dimension of visuals, and I'm hungry for exactly that type of comic (something you find often in Japan but that is all too rare in this country).
I don't know where the story is (or, stories are) going, but I hope Lutes finishes it. (With its leisurely pace, I'm not sure anyone has that much stamina.) This is one of the few comics in this country that are truly written for adults, without the escapes of fantasy or superheroes or the like. It's ordinary adult life and it's fascinating.
The story is bitter-sweet, not only in terms of the relationshipe between Kurt and Marthe, but for the city of Berlin itself. Again Lutes creates both a sympathetic view of Berlin in the late 20s and early 30s (as one character puts it, "Its a madhouse - things are on the verge of collapse! Can't any of you feel it? The air is thick with imminent disaster, and we spend our time doodling the days away like children") showing how Germany's post-war republic gradually dissolved into a fascist dictatorship.
A closer read shows a real appreciation for the city - from the slang (referring to police as "Bulls" - slang that is not as benign as "cop" nor as acidic as "pig" - but somewhere in the middle) to depicitions of the city - especially the neighborhood Wedding (referred to as "Red Wedding" for its strong working-class feel) to bits of dialoge about the Spree or a scene of the Seigelsaule. Clearly Lutes knows his stuff.
While graphic novels may not be to everyone's taste, I would without hesitation recommend this book to anyone given its strengths.
The story line continues in expected ways from an historical perspective, but in quite unexpected ways from the perspective of the characters. The most searing change is in the relationship between Kurt Severing, the increasingly disillusioned pacifist, leftist, and political journalist, and his young love Marthe Muller, whom he introduces to the cultural life of Berlin.
What happens to Marthe and Kurt seems to parallel what's happening to the Weimar Republic in general: things fall apart. Much of City of Smoke follows the breakdown of the Republic: the increasing violence between fascists and communists, the virulence of anti-Semitism, the suppression of intellectuals. Jazz, lesbianism, homosexuality, and a general sense of fin de siecle are some of the themes that Lutes explores.
Two shortcomings, while not at all fatal to Lutes' project, make the second volume of Berlin less wonderful than the first. At times, in order to add some historical detail to his story, Lutes becomes overly didactic (especially pp. 120-124). A weightier problem is the occasional sloppiness with which the panels are drawn. The artistry in Berlin, City of Stones was breathtaking. Here, occasionally, it seems cartoonish--for example, Lutes draws conventionally cartoonish clouds of anger above characters' heads instead of letting the anger showing on their faces tell the story (see, for instance, bottom panel on p. 173). In other places, the drawing lacks perspective and strikes one as preliminary sketches that were never completed (see, for example, the panels on p. 35).
Still, Jason Lutes' is creating a masterwork with his Berlin saga, and I now await the third volume as eagerly as I did the second.
The development of the various subplots, with the Communists and the Jewish family, play out a rather chaotic display of emotions and political thought. Also Lutes introduces American Negros into the cabaret lifestyle which ran rampant in the Pre-Nazi Berlin. Jazz, liquor and cocaine along with a decadent Teutonic advent guard populace were common mainstays in the "City built on a Marsh".
The Author develops a flowing and quick prose along with a grand black and white depiction of a Berlin heading into the abyss of Nazism. Although this graphic novel is fiction, the very basis is historically accurate. Mr. Lutes is to be commended! Six Stars!! No Problem!!!