Benjamin Lebert The Bird Is a Raven

ISBN 13: 9781400042845

The Bird Is a Raven

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9781400042845: The Bird Is a Raven

From the gifted young author of Crazy (“A marvel of voice, humor and razor-sharp insight” –The San Diego Union-Tribune), an edgy, psychologically riveting novel about sex, love, and secrets.

Henry and Paul — young men still new to adulthood — are strangers when they find themselves sharing a sleeping compartment on a night train from Munich to Berlin. When they begin to talk, their stories appear to be variations on the same theme: kids adrift in the big city, relationships gone awry, young hearts broken. Both are disillusioned by their awkward journey from the innocence of childhood to the responsibilities expected of grown-up life. Henry is running away from a triangle of friendship that was becoming a dangerous ménage à trois. Paul is running away as well, but as the night unwinds and the train speeds north across the German landscape, his story turns ominous: desperate and lost, he has fallen in love with a prostitute who spurned him. What he reveals finally to his unsuspecting traveling companion goes far beyond the boundaries of postadolescent angst and into the darkest sphere of human behavior.

Fast-moving, immediate, shocking — The Bird Is a Raven is the work of a writer at the beginning of what promises to be a stellar career.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Benjamin Lebert was born in Freiburg, Germany in 1982.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

I finished high school in Munich. When I was twenty I moved to Berlin to study ethnology. I shared an apartment in Schoneberg with two other students. A guy named Randall and a girl named Sofia. I hardly spent any time studying. I didn't really give a damn about anything. I hung out in the city. I went to cafes and clubs. I met people who were doing the same thing. Most of them had come to Berlin from somewhere else. In fact, they all had. And they all wanted to be discovered. Of course, they knew that they had to go out looking too. And they did that to some extent. But they wanted above all to be discovered.

It's Friday night, 10:26, January 4. I'm standing on platform 18 of the central station in Munich. My green duffel bag is lying next to me on the ground. It's bitter cold. The wind is shaving my cheeks. Solitary pigeons are fluttering around; one of them lands on the tracks. The station concourse is brightly lit. There aren't many people around. An elderly woman in a black coat is standing a few yards away from me. She's wearing a white hat with earflaps. She's walking back and forth, her left arm crossed over her chest, her right hand holding a cell phone, whose buttons she's pressing with her thumb. More solitary figures. The train is already six minutes late. It's the train that'll take me back to Berlin after my short visit home. Berlin, where everything is bright and beautiful. At least that's what you used to hear. From everyone. From all the guys who were raving about Berlin: man, you gotta go there. It's a great town. It's like, you know, everything's moving! There's action there. The air isn't air--it's filled with gold dust. You know, like, you inhale gold dust. And the girls! They're incredible! Whether they've been there all along or just arrived, you can tell they've been breathing in tons of gold dust.

But none of that was really true. I mean, the girls I came across in Berlin, most of them were really great, but they weren't breathing gold dust. The air they sucked in through their beautiful noses was nostalgia. And not just the girls.

I stare at the announcement board: 10:29. The train will be here any minute. I think of the three days I've just spent in Munich, think about my mother. She's a doctor. Each night when I sleep at my parents' house, she puts a little white bowl of sliced kiwis on my nightstand. She used to do that before too. Now it gets on my nerves. But in Berlin I still think about it. When I'm at a club and see all the people who have come to the city like me and are dancing like crazy. All of them with this expectant look in their eyes, which can even be detected in the dim lights of the club. Maybe only really detectable in the dark. Like shimmering cats' eyes. And then I wonder if they have somebody somewhere who, regardless of what happens, will keep on putting sliced kiwis on their nightstand.

The loudspeaker announces the train and it pulls in, the wheels grinding. As I get on, I suddenly feel sick, like I'm going to fall backward onto the platform. But I don't. I'm carrying my bag over my shoulder. I squeeze my way though the corridor. Past two girls who only grudgingly make way. One of them is chewing gum. Where's the sleeper? My compartment is number 39. It's a long walk. I also have to go through the dining car. It's quite full. Blue cigarette smoke hangs over the tables. Voices and laughter. Beneath my feet I feel that the train has started up again. At last, number 39.

A white card key is sticking in the door. I unlock it. The second bed is still empty. Mine is the bottom one. Not much space here. On a shelf are two bananas, two apples. There are also two upturned drinking glasses and two little bottles of water. In front of the window: drawn gray curtains with small violet dots. The door to the washroom is narrow. A shower cubicle, a toilet, a small washbowl. Pretty much all the colors in the compartment are gray and violet. It somehow smells of plastic, not of fresh air. Not of air that nine hours later, when we arrive in Berlin, will transform itself into gold dust. I hang my brown coat on a hook, sit down on my bed. Not quite sure if I should undress, or wait till the other guy gets here. I can hear the sounds from the compartment next door quite clearly. A woman's voice says: "I've had enough; I can't go on."

Last time I traveled in a sleeper, there was some old guy in the upper bunk who kept calling down to me that I should come up for a fuck. Back then I wasn't into it. And I'm still not. That's why I'm wondering who'll be coming in this time. There's a knock. I open the door. My sleeper companion turns out to be a young guy, about my age. He's small and delicate-looking, has short brown hair, and a black backpack, which he immediately puts down next to my bag. From his movements, the way he keeps shifting his weight from one foot to the other and darting his head back and forth, I think right away: a bird.

"What's up?" he says.

"Hi there," I say. We smile at each other.

"Want to hit the dining car?"

"Yeah, let's go for it."

I'm not actually hungry, but I think it'll do me good to chat a bit before going to sleep.

A small table frees up in the dining car. What will we drink? He orders an apple juice, I order a beer. It's black outside. You can't see anything of the landscape, except for a few lights. Our faces are mirrored in the windows. The drinks arrive. A small, homey lamp is burning on the table. He also orders fried eggs and spinach.

"I could eat a cow!" he says. "By the way, my name's Henry."

"I'm Paul."

The train takes a curve, the waitress balances her tray past us. Is it the monotonous clack-clack of the wheels creating this peculiar mood? An anonymous familiarity, like two strangers on a hike who meet by a river. They sit down together. They don't know each other. Their only link is the river.

"I'm heading for Berlin," Henry says. "I have no other choice."

His fried eggs arrive. I've never seen anyone scarf down two eggs and spinach faster. He wipes his mouth with his napkin and looks at me. "You've got a brown spot in your eye. In the white part. What's that?"

"My mom noticed it too and brought it up. No idea what that's all about. I've just had it three days."

He sits there for a while as if he were asleep with his eyes open. Just as I am about to ask him when he ate last, he begins talking: "I had two friends. They were my only friends. We stuck together. When I was hanging out with them I wasn't afraid of anything. Their names were Jens and Christine. They were both older than me. Jens was twenty-three and Christine was twenty-eight. I'm eighteen. Now we won't be together anymore. Ever."

For a moment there is silence.

"Do you mind if I smoke?" he asks. He doesn't wait for an answer. He pulls a cigarette from his pack of Marlboros and hands me one too. He lights both. A few lit houses wipe past our windows. Then there's blackness again.

"I don't understand," Henry continues. "I don't understand how it all happened. That's why I have to talk about it with someone. If I talk about it with someone, it'll all come back again and I'll figure it out. Remembering things is so fucking important. Because you have to remember things before you can deal with them. I just have to go over it again and--" He breaks off. "You know what I mean?" he asks after a while.

"Yeah, sure do," I answer, and cautiously add, "It's not all that hard to understand."

"There's nothing to understand," he retorts sharply. Suddenly a fire rages in his eyes. "I mean, I have no idea how she's doing. And I don't know if I'm ever going to see her again. After all that stuff."

The train stops in a brightly lit station. A traveler comes into the dining car, sits down at a table, and orders a cup of coffee. The waitress says, "We're no longer serving." The traveler is angry. She couldn't care less. She comes to our table and says, "I'm closing up now."

I hadn't noticed that the dining car had emptied out.

"Separate checks?"

"No, one check," Henry says, and puts his wallet on the table.

"Seventeen euros, or thirty-four marks."

He hasn't touched his apple juice. We go back to our compartment. We lie down in our bunks. The lights are out. But I've opened the window curtains. Blackness flies past, like an enormous cloud of dark insects. The moving train provides the musical accompaniment. "I hate the darkness," Henry says. "This might sound weird, but for me darkness always sheds light on terrible things." He hesitates for a moment. Then he starts talking.

"I don't know how it is with you, but my biggest problem is girls. I always wanted to be with a girl, but I couldn't get it together. Those school dances were the worst. I'd watch them all dancing. But not with me. Their straps would slip down over their shoulders, and the stupid guys dancing with them would pull them back up with a cheesy grin. I would have done anything to be the guy to pull a girl's strap back up over her shoulder. But it never happened. And the girls all looked so good. Like they were glowing. And they smelled as if just before coming to the party they'd been lying in some magical perfumed meadow in another world, another universe. I was always standing there, so far away from it all. Even though I was so close. The people on the dance floor were inside an invisible bubble. And I was outside. T...

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Benjamin Lebert, Peter Constantine (Translator)
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