Leaving Berlin

Leaving BerlinLeaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon
Genres: Historical, Political, Suspense
Published by Atria Books on March 3, 2015
Pages: 384

 

As a Jewish writer in pre-war Germany, Alex Meier’s life was in danger. Able to escape to America, he enjoyed fifteen years as an immigrant, establishing a career and a family. But once the war ended, fear of communism spread to America and his pre-war political beliefs now haunt him as the McCarthy trials begin. Refusing to testify he is faced with deportation, permanently separating him from his son. Hoping to regain entry to America, he makes a deal with the CIA to be an informant on the happenings in the Soviet sector of Berlin.

Though welcomed as a hero in East Berlin, he knows that his safety is ever contingent upon him being a good party member. However, his job becomes high risk, when there turns out to be a leak within the CIA. Not knowing who is spying on who and an impending party purge, Alex must try to outsmart those seeking self-promotion while making himself useful enough to earn his way out of Berlin. With mystery and intrigue combined with moral dilemmas and political jostling, Leaving Berlin is a gripping tale of post-war Germany and the attempts to survive in the fledgling state.

Leaving Berlin features wonderful research, an intriguing time period, a dynamic cast of characters, amazing dialogue, and an uneasy mood that is perfect for a story told during an uneasy time.

Joseph Kanon is a new to me author, but I don’t believe this will be the last book I read by him. Leaving Berlin is about all I could ask for as an introduction to his writing. It features wonderful research, an intriguing time period, a dynamic cast of characters, amazing dialogue, and an uneasy mood that is perfect for a story told during an uneasy time. While I do admit to not understanding portions of the story, I do believe this is more my lack of knowledge than Mr. Kanon’s story telling. Overall this is a brilliant story that at times left me just as unsettled as the characters.

The opening chapters are a little confusing, but to a certain degree it works within the story. Alex is returning to a Berlin that’s vastly different than the one he left. To a certain degree, the reader is going through the same re-acquaintance process as Alex. Having not even a passing knowledge of post-war Soviet Berlin, I had a pretty big learning curve. The early part of this book brings the reader up to speed on what has happened in Alex’s past as well as the current situation in Berlin. My issues were with keeping characters/backgrounds together while at the same time understanding Berlin’s current situation and unfamiliar terminology. I’m not sure Mr. Kanon could have done anything differently to make this part of the book easier to follow—there’s just a lot information to provide while keeping the story interesting and moving along.

Alex is a wonderfully engaging character. He’s a bit of a mystery to a certain degree and seems to have a wealth of courage that isn’t immediately obvious.

Once I got past the early parts, I had a difficult time setting this book down. Alex is a wonderfully engaging character. He’s a bit of a mystery to a certain degree and seems to have a wealth of courage that isn’t immediately obvious. He’s routinely faced with moral dilemmas that are truly no-win situations. But as he handles each new scenario, he grows and the reader has a better chance to see who he really is.

The dialogue in Leaving Berlin is amazing. It sets a tone for the book that demonstrates both the uneasiness of the characters and the psychological affects of their past and current situation.

The dialogue in Leaving Berlin is amazing. It sets a tone for the book that demonstrates both the uneasiness of the characters and the psychological affects of their past and current situation. The characters seem to be almost lost in their thoughts, not rambling, but rather trying to sort through how to survive their current life. So much is shown through the dialogue that never has to be told; the reader can pick up on the character’s emotional state just through their words.

Leaving Berlin is rich in mystery and intrigue. There is so much deception among the characters that it makes it hard to know who to trust. Since this book is based in history, it heightens the danger and makes the story feel very alive. There is no doubt this book is well researched and the historical parts that Mr. Kanon chooses to include truly enhance the story. The use of the term ‘exile’ to describe Alex’s time in America or ‘purifying the party’ all serve to give the reader a very visual idea of what people faced. It’s a fascinating glimpse at history and well presented in this book.

Overall I very much enjoyed Leaving Berlin. It has many of the elements that I like—a good mystery, strong characters, great research, attention to detail, and excellent dialogue. This is a highly entertaining novel and an author I look forward to continuing to read.

Note: This is a general market novel and has some violence and minor sexual content. Both are within reason for the story being told.

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