It is 1950 and communists are being hunted across America. When Walter Kotlar is accused of being a spy by the House Un-American Activities Committee, his young son Nick destroys a piece of evidence only he knows about. But before the hearing can conclude, Walter flees the country, leaving behind his family... and a key witness lying dead, apparently having committed suicide.
Nineteen years later, Nick gets a second chance to discover the truth when a beautiful journalist brings a message from his long-lost father, and Nick follows her into Soviet-occupied Prague for a painful reunion and the discovery of a secret that changes everything. To unravel the lies Nick must return to where it all began and expose the one person who knew the truth - and who watched his family's destruction.
Trust no one in this compelling, surprising thriller from the author of Leaving Berlin and The Good German.
Kanon's second novel, after the very well-received Los Alamos, is somewhat disappointing. He ventures into John le Carre territory, telling the tale of an American State Department official, hounded by the McCarthyites in 1950, who proves them right by abruptly decamping to the Soviet Union in the middle of congressional hearings into his loyalty. The tale of Walter Koltar is told by his son Nick, both at the time of his disappearance, when Nick is a small boy not quite understanding what is happening to his father, and nearly 20 years later, when he receives a mysterious summons to visit his father, now living in Czechoslovakia, just after the illusory "Prague Spring" of 1968. Walter wants to return home and thinks he has a trump card that will make that possible. Will Nick help out? As he proved in Los Alamos, Kanon is very adept at rendering the feeling and atmosphere of another time, and his early chapters are powerful evocations of that strange period in American life. He is good, too, on the bizarre quality of life in Prague after the Soviet invasion. The book is thoughtful, often penetrating, though at its considerable length, and with its comparatively small cast--Nick; his abandoned mother; his stepfather, Larry (another top Washington official); and his girlfriend Molly--it sometimes is a bit claustrophobic. The real problems appear in the last 100 pages, where the pace accelerates, J. Edgar Hoover is introduced as a not altogether convincing walk-on, and Nick takes a catastrophic action that seems entirely out of character with how he has been presented previously. It is as if the conventions of the spy thriller are working against Kanon's real strengths, which are in the creation of character as forged by intelligently re-created history.