Rated Reads

Berlin: City of Stones

by Jason Lutes

Rated: High

Graphic novels seem to be developing into a potent force in the book marketplace; this is the first one I have ever read, based on a program I heard on NPR (National Public Radio).

The setting is the winter of 1928-9 in Berlin, Germany.  Political and social unrest blanket the city even heavier than the snow.  Three distinct story lines are being related against this backdrop with only indirect communication between them.  There is an amateur artist connecting with a journalist, a frustrated mother trying to provide for her children while investigating communism, and a multi-generational family of Jews just beginning to experience persecution.  Players from all three lines cross each other visually and in passing conversations.

The artwork is nothing stunning, but it is clear monochrome with a lot of different and interesting angles of view.  It is much easier to feel present in the past via the images, rather than simply relying on an author’s written descriptions of the city, the places, and the people.  The panels also allow the reader to see the indirect connections between the main characters with their own eyes, making the reading experience that much more imaginative, in my opinion.

The biggest issue is that none of the characters are particularly interesting; they are all pretty bland and regular.  I do not think that this is a direct result of the graphic format, but rather failure on the part of the author to either show or tell who they really are, what they believe in, and why we readers should care.  I really believe I could like the concept of graphic novels for adult readers, but even though the artwork was not overly focused on it, the dozen panels of partial to full nudity (male and female) were a turn-off.  I would not classify it as pornography, per se, since the actions are nothing more than the kind of encounters one reads about in standard books, but looking at it, even in a subtle fashion, was not an engaging experience for me.

The book itself is just shy of an inch thick, almost 8.5 x 11, and still the panels seem just as small as the shrinking comics in most newspapers, and some dialogue was difficult to read.

Rating: High. In addition to the aforementioned images of naked people, there were just over thirty instances of foul language, half a dozen of which were related to Deity.

— Reviewed by Craig Smith

Craig Smith is chief medical officer of Tacoma Cat Hospital. In addition to providing book reviews on Rated Reads, he podcasts about feline health issues through iTunes and www.tacomacat.com.

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  • Berlin: City of Stones
  • by Jason Lutes
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: