Apparently, I never did a review of the first of Lutes' incredible tales of pre-WWII Germany, so you are going to hear about both Books One and Two now. Originally I was going to say that a problem with the second volume was that it had been so long since the first I had really lost most memory of the various characters and spent half of the second book relearning about many of them (as well as being introduced to new ones (yes, I could have reread the first book but it was elsewhere when I grabbed this from the library)). I would also say that I didn't have this disconnect with the characters the first time around, but then again I was learning about them from scratch. Still, all that really doesn't matter in the end. In fact, none of the characters, for all their complexities, depth, and uniqueness, matter at all. The reason is that what you are reading, in all it's painstakingly specific art and historical care, is about the dead. No, I don't simply mean characters who are fictional anyway, but about a country and a time period. The end is "spoiled" because we know what is to come: this cosmopolitain Berlin of a crippled Germany struggling between the forces of communists and fascists in an attempt to maintain one of the most liberal democracies the world has ever known, is doomed to be engulfed in flames and never seen again--at least never like this. And that's what makes this an amazing read. Lutes tells the tale of a dead man, and we watch, helplessly and pathetically, as it marches off blindly into oblivion, wondering if there was anything anyone could have done to save this starving, confused, wonderfully diverse land, filled with history, culture, and dreams, before it nearly destroyed the entire world, succeeding only is annihilating itself.