Jason Pettus's Reviews > The Bird Is a Raven

The Bird Is a Raven by Benjamin Lebert
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Jan 02, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: contemporary, character-heavy, dark
Read in January, 2008

(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com].)

Many of CCLaP's German readers will of course already be familiar with author Benjamin Lebert; he's a German as well, after all, whose previous novel Crazy was a big cult hit over there in the early 2000s, back when Lebert himself was barely more than a kid. And now we come to his second "novel," a tiny little volume called The Bird Is a Raven which in actuality is more like a novella than anything else. A slim 110 pages (and in large type as well), the book is not much more than a chronicle of a conversation between two young German men while on a nighttime train ride from Munich to Berlin; it's a long and boring journey, for those who don't know, one perfect for intimate conversations between strangers in a shared bunking car.

Ah, but unfortunately, for this being such a tiny book there sure are a whole lot of problems with that conversation at the center of The Bird Is a Raven, starting with its extremely uneven tone: how even as it's ostensibly a re-telling of the action-based stories that are driving both of these young men from Munich and into Berlin in the middle of a random night, it is also filled with the kind of aimless navel-gazing ennui that marks the stereotypical jokes about indie European arts, just pages and pages of young males staring balefully out dark train windows while muttering lines such as, "Oh ja, I am filled with Der Angst, and now I wonder perhaps if an angel dies every time a rose sheds ein petal." Not to mention that the stories the men tell about their Munich days are kind of offensive and misogynist and gross and dark anyway; just witness the dour main story, Henry's that is, entirely populated with repulsive characters doing repulsive things given any opportunity at all to do so.

But then it gets even worse than this, believe it or not -- now witness the other young man's story, Paul, whose entire arc basically exists just to deliver a sitcom-like punchline at the very end of the manuscript, something so pointless and arbitrarily violent that it just leaves you scratching your head afterwards and saying, "...the f-ck?" Stupid language-loving, angst-embracing Germans, I tells ya!

Out of 10: 2.2
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