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Berlin: City of Stones: Book One (Part 1) Paperback – June 1, 2000
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It's difficult to think of a story with a greater sense of elegant, nuanced foreboding than Jason Lutes's Berlin, Book One: City of Stones. Set in the Weimar Republic-era of German history, Lutes's story takes an unimaginably large and historically important time and observes it through the small lives of a band of sympathetic protagonists. The author spends the most time with his main characters, Kurt Severing and Marthe Müller, but the quality of Berlin is such that the reader cares emphatically about the fate of the rest of the cast: the lovelorn dyke art student, the recently separated single mother, even fleeting characters like the street policeman or the overworked newspaper editor. Even so, the shadow of the coming war cautions us not to get too attached to these people. They are imperfect, bickering, and naïve in their ideologies--just like real people. Brutality will soon follow, and the vulnerability of each of the characters haunts the pages.
Using the graphic novel form to tackle an issue like the rise of Nazi Germany is fraught with traps, not least of which are comparisons to other works, such as Maus, as well as literary criticism for minimizing such an important topic. Lutes navigates these hazards well, creating sparse black-and-white sketches that often render a mood wordlessly. Whole pages go without text, and it serves the story well. As much can be told by showing a character in a window's evening reflection, eyes inked as darkened sockets, than through retelling details of (now) familiar historical events. The story itself has a rambling and philosophical feel, focused on details that become all the more poignant for their insignificance. One segment--where Lutes shows Marthe's walk onto a newly snow-covered street--tells us everything we need to know about this character, without much actual action occurring. Lutes doesn't use moments of transcendence to make a point or add sentimentality; instead, he firmly grounds us in this time and place.
Without knowing more about the next volumes, it's impossible to say whether Lutes will use this attachment against the readers later, knocking down his characters cheaply, allowing the shortcuts demanded by the burden of history. The last pages of this book--with a disappointingly predictable resolution--hinted in that direction, but the overall tone of the book indicates that something much richer and deeper will happen along with the inevitable loss. --Jennifer Buckendorff
About the Author
Jason Lutes is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. He has worked as an art director and editor for various alternative media and comics companies but he's happiest being his own boss. He freelances from his new home in Asheville, North Carolina.
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Top Customer Reviews
Each chapter unfolds gracefully, linking easily with the next, although each one stands well on its own, without having to rely too heavily on the others in order to be comprehended. The art style isn't "cartoony" by any means...Lutes is a shrewd observer of the human form, and his figures reflect his keen eye. He's also a tireless researcher, and you can rest assured that when he draws an automobile, or a cocktail dress, or a phonograph player, it's appropriate to the time and place. Artistic drama is heightened by his clever use of inking; indeed, his employment of sheer black compares favorably to that of Milton Caniff, although in more subtle ways. It's worth noting that Lutes seems to prefer dealing in strict black and white; there are no zip-a-tone grays here.
But what makes "BERLIN: BOOK ONE" so compelling is the writing. Lutes has created a handful of characters whom we follow chapter after chapter; sometimes, their lives intersect, but in other instances they never meet with one another. Some are Bolsheviks, some are Nazis, some are just survivors in the rapidly shrinking middle. They are all fascinating, and the drama, the humor, and the uncertainty of their fictional lives against the very real historical backdrop of their era gives "BERLIN" its true power.
This is the first volume of what Lutes promises will be a three book saga. One can only admire his audacity, and marvel at the success he has achieved so far.
I'm only giving it four stars for now because as it stands, I feel as though I need to know how it ends before I can properly review it and gather my complete thoughts
1) A traffic director whose intestinal constipation makes him see the vehicles he's directing as loathsome insects.
2) A physically vigorous fifty-ish newspaper distributor who likes making fun of the Nazis.
3). A schoolteacher who faces down her dochstoss-spouting student by telling her pupils that November, 1918, was a good month for the German people, as it was the month that brought democracy.
The book is full of these, along with major characters you'll care deeply about. The end - involving a single mother's vision of her now-estranged husband - very moving.
I can't wait for the second installment of a story of individuals in this politically ablaze city. Mr. Lutes, please hurry!