New York Times Notable Book * NPR Best Books 2015 * Wall Street Journal Best Books of 2015
The acclaimed author of The Good German “deftly captures the ambience” (The New York Times Book Review) of postwar East Berlin in his “thought-provoking, pulse-pounding” (Wall Street Journal) New York Times bestseller—a sweeping spy thriller about a city caught between political idealism and the harsh realities of Soviet occupation.
Berlin, 1948. Almost four years after the war’s end, the city is still in ruins, a physical wasteland and a political symbol about to rupture. In the West, a defiant, blockaded city is barely surviving on airlifted supplies; in the East, the heady early days of political reconstruction are being undermined by the murky compromises of the Cold War. Espionage, like the black market, is a fact of life. Even culture has become a battleground, with German intellectuals being lured back from exile to add credibility to the competing sectors.
Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer, fled the Nazis for America before the war. But the politics of his youth have now put him in the crosshairs of the McCarthy witch-hunts. Faced with deportation and the loss of his family, he makes a desperate bargain with the fledgling CIA: he will earn his way back to America by acting as their agent in his native Berlin. But almost from the start things go fatally wrong. A kidnapping misfires, an East German agent is killed, and Alex finds himself a wanted man. Worse, he discovers his real assignment—to spy on the woman he left behind, the only woman he has ever loved. Changing sides in Berlin is as easy as crossing a sector border. But where do we draw the lines of our moral boundaries? At betrayal? Survival? Murder? Joseph Kanon’s compelling thriller is a love story that brilliantly brings a shadowy period of history vividly to life.
In his new novel, Kanon (Istanbul Passage) stays firmly in his traditional milieu intrigue in post-World War II Europe with this solid story about a German emigre, Alex Meier, returning to the divided city of East Berlin in 1949. It's not an entirely voluntary return for Meier, a successful novelist who had been working in Hollywood: a refusal to testify about Communists before Congress results in the forced repatriation; if he wants to return to the States, he must become a spy. The book is full of real-life historical figures, mostly writers like Bertolt Brecht, Arnold Zweig, and Ruth Berlau who are, like the fictional Meier, warmly welcomed home by the Communists. Meier's assignment is to spy on the cultural apparatus of East Germany and, in particular, to investigate a state security bigwig, Major General Maltsev, the consort of Elspeth von Bernuth, one of his childhood friends. There's a fair amount of action, including a shootout in a dark street that results in a shocking act of violence, but the appeal of the book is how it conjures the atmosphere of post-War Europe, in the vein of Alan Furst and David Downing. There's too much backstory and the period details sometimes bog down the narrative, but once all the pieces are in place the story hits its stride. Kanon likes to wrestle with the moral dimensions of spying (a la le Carr ) and what's more, he's very good at it.
Customer ReviewsSee All
A very well written, historically informative, espionage thriller. Better than LeCarre, and with a bit of hope buried within the bleakness of Germany after WWII. I will read more books by this talented author.
Loved this book. Great plot and characters! It was a little hard to follow at first with all the different agencies and characters. As I read, it all came together and became a great read. Lots of fun and excitement!
I've read all his books. This one, by far, is his best. Classic Kanon.