Post WWII Thriller “Leaving Berlin”, by Joseph Kanon - Book Review

Award-winning author Joseph Kanon is internationally recognized, having published bestsellers, including The Good German, which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett. With much acclaim, I picked up his latest spy thriller with great expectation. I was disappointed.

Leaving Berlin: A Novel
By Joseph Kanon

Leaving Berlin takes place in 1949 Berlin; the city divided by the Allies into Soviet, French, British and American sectors. In the East, the Soviets rule with an iron fist, grabbing people off the streets for small suspected infractions, friends turn into informants, and war-time concentration camps are turned into prisons for party dissenters.  At the center of the drama is Alex Meier, a Jewish German writer who was able to leave a concentration camp during the war after a payoff. 15 years later, after exile in America, he returns at the invitation of the new Soviet-backed German party to help form a cultural revival. 

Before his return to Berlin, Alex is recruited by the CIA to spy on his childhood love, Irene because she is now involved with a high-ranking Soviet official. Upon his arrival in his native city, the amateur spy quickly becomes an expert in leaving no witnesses and playing sides against each other. The action ensues with encounters of old friends, car chases, clandestine meetings and multiple betrayals.  The young writer is at the vortex of a rather unbelievable drama.

While an interesting story line, Leaving Berlin was hard to follow at times. After getting used to a unique writing style, I managed through a series of characters lacking in depth throughout. The women of the story are given rambling dialogue and portrayed without any savvy or intelligence in the name of survival. And our protagonist’s character, Alex advanced so quickly in his spy skills, surpassing his handlers, I just couldn’t buy into it.

Having been widely acclaimed for previous works, I may give Joseph Kanon another try. But for now, I have a full stack of promising books waiting for me.

Published:  2015
Publisher: Atria Books

Vickie’s rating: 2 stars