The form of the narrative is the book’s most compelling part. Steinmetz admits that he “planned to spit out the book chronologically, but as it is, my hard drive is crammed with research notes, transcriptions of family letters, photographs and multiple drafts of the endless permutations of my book so far.” As a result, major themes of this book are dislocation and alienation. Fittingly, the narrative is constructed around fragmented scenes and details of Paryla’s life, jumping from scene to detail and from narrative prose, to movie scripts, transcripts, lists, and emails, all in an attempt to piece his cousin’s life together.
The choice of abandoning normal linear memoir is important. One section of the book that beautifully illustrates the need to follow an unconventional form is a chapter that describes Steinmetz’s online research during his travels. Using an online search engine’s automatic translation feature for comments left on a German film review site, Steinmetz uncovers things that symbolize his whole project. One comment on The Great Escape translates into English from German as follows: “Class film, shot in the never get bored, despite the length. Even top performances by actors. As a teenager, I liked the film really happy, but when I look at it today, I find the humour inappropriate, especially the cheerful music theme.” In many ways, this literal translation with its disparate elements and non sequiturs is representative of the author’s holistic approach.