Leaving Berlin a novel

by Joseph Kanon

Book, 2015

Barcode

123460488

Call number

FIC KAN

Collection

Publication

New York, NY Atria Books, 2015

Description

"From the bestselling author of Istanbul Passage--called a "fast-moving thinking man's thriller" by The Wall Street Journal--comes a sweeping, atmospheric novel of postwar East Berlin, 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? Betrayal? Survival? Murder? Filled with intrigue, and the moral ambiguity of conflicted loyalties, Joseph Kanon's new novel is a compelling thriller and a love story that brings a shadowy period of history vividly to life"--… (more)

Media reviews

Kanon populates the blasted landscape of Berlin, in which the Third Reich has been replaced by yet another odious regime, with a gallery of corrupted characters

User reviews

LibraryThing member maneekuhi
I have read most of Kanon's books, have generally enjoyed them very much particularly the recent "Istanbul Passage" and the earlier "Los Alomos". However, in reading "Leaving Berlin" I constantly felt as though I was walking into the middle of a cocktail party conversation where I had some sense of
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the topic, but knew none of the background and was having trouble catching on to a lot of the references. There is no one I knew at this party and I had difficulty relating who knows whom and what do they do. However, having read many, many spy novels, I know that what *I have just described is one of the first rules of writing spy novels. Supposedly this fogginess of issues, plots, and characters all come together to add a certain ring of authenticity to Spyworld. But it can be overdone, e.g., "Leaving Berlin". This was a huge disappointment because I had such high expectations. And I didn't much care for Alex, our protagonist. He gets points for "doing the right thing" (maybe a bit too often - but I think the author may be faulted for presenting too many opportunities to Alex to be the hero). For someone with no formal spy training, he seems incredibly adept at handling unexpected situations. I thought the plot did have one rather interesting element - several of the characters are former friends, acquaintances, lovers and this limits Alex's alternatives and complicates his decision making in interesting but perhaps unrealistic ways. If you decide to read this, I suggest you pay particular notice to events early in the novel. Interesting how the early reviews seem to either love it or dislike it, no middle ground so far.
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LibraryThing member BillPilgrim
I liked Istanbul Passage more, but this is also a very well constructed plot. Parts of the plot seemed forced and did not feel true. But overall very enjoyable.
LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Joseph Kanon has written a very exciting book about the politics and atmosphere in the world shortly after the end of World War II. With the demise of The Third Reich and the Social Democrats, the overriding fear of the Nazis receded and was replaced by a fear of Communism which when surfaced, rose
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to the top with a vengeance. After the war, many Nazis were actively recruited for their scientific backgrounds as the pursuit of a nuclear weapon emerged front and center as a goal for Russia, while at the same time, the United States was actively deporting suspected Communists who might be engaged as spies to further that and other ends.
In the 1930’s, prior to World War II, Alex Meier, a German Jew (half Jewish), was arrested in Germany, not for being Jewish, but for having ties to the Communist Party. As a political prisoner in Sachsenhausen, he was beaten and subjected to brutal conditions. When his freedom was purchased by Fritz von Bernuth, the father of close friends, he left his country behind and traveled to California where he intended to live out the rest of his life. However, at the war’s end, when the fear of Communism exploded, investigations led to the discovery of his background. His socialist and communist ties were uncovered. When, using blackmail-like tactics like those used in Russia and Germany, he still refused to give up the names of his friends, he was sent back to East Germany and forced to part from his wife and son.
Although anti-Semitism still raged on in Germany, he was welcomed as a Communist in East Germany. After being recruited as a spy by the CIA, he found himself also under the scrutiny of German Communists working for Russia. He is subtly blackmailed into working for them as well. The novel’s hero is a born double agent who managed to manipulate and outwit those that tried to murder him and/or use him to gain information. He finds he can do whatever he has to in order to survive and earn his way back, hopefully, to California where his now ex-wife and child reside. He is a devoted father
He discovers that his utopian vision of a Socialist Germany is not what it is cracked up to be. With Russia in charge, it is no different than it was in Germany before the war or in the United States, for that matter, as they sought to uncover secret Socialists and Communists whom they considered highly suspect and possibly dangerous. Because of his status as a writer, part of the new cultural wave sweeping Germany, he was entitled to a better way of life than most people. Instead of everyone getting the same, according to their needs, he was afforded extra ration cards, places to eat where ration cards were not needed and food was good and plentiful. He was treated like a celebrity, as an honored guest. Housing was quickly made available to him. However, he could not trust anyone because everyone was being used by the system to create a community that spied on each other to get what they needed to survive. There was no freedom as there was in America. He was very disillusioned with both systems, but he preferred to put those guilty to right and return to America.
The conclusion of the tale leaves the reader with more than a thriller resolved. It leaves the reader with some philosophical thoughts to ponder. How was it that the Germans complained about their suffering after the war, yet they had brought it upon themselves. They resented the rationing and the devastation, yet, they never took responsibility for the pain and suffering and destruction and loss of innocent lives for which they were responsible. How is it they didn’t notice the shortages in the ghettos, the disappearing victims, the theft of their belongings, the suddenly empty homes with no residents? It was only when it affected them, when the Russians were as barbaric as they had been, raping and pillaging, that they complained. They were not innocent, no matter how much they protested.
As far as I am concerned, anyone who did not speak out or try to stop Hitler’s advance, anyone who watched them invade their country and cheered them on as they murdered the Jews, humiliated the homosexuals, beat the gypsies, anyone like that was complicit and no matter what country they came from, they share in the guilt. That means the Poles, the French, the Russians, the Italians and all the fascists and all the anti-Semites will have to answer to some greater power, someday, for their despicable behavior.
I listened to this as an audiobook and found that transitions from one character and one scene or one time to another were sometimes awkward, but otherwise it really held my attention.
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LibraryThing member TerriBooks
I will admit that spy thrillers aren't my usual genre, so maybe I just don't "get" the type. I thought the characters and the circumstances were so unbelievable that the interrupted my enjoyment of the flow of the novel. In particular, Alex, who is supposedly barely trained and not a professional,
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is bossing around the heads of security agencies in Berlin by the end of the book. Really?

On the other hand, I really liked the description of a divided Berlin before the Wall went up. The story takes place during the Berlin airlift, and the constant buzz of the incoming flights is described eerily well right from the first paragraph. Many times the author has written so that you can place yourself in this city, just barely recovering from destruction and awash in the politics of East vs West. That made the book fun for me to read.
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LibraryThing member neddludd
Like Scott Turow works, it takes a while to accommodate yourself to Joseph Kanon's literary rhythm, but once you do, this is one of the better Berlin novels. It's 1949, and the airlift is on. Relations between the Allies and Russians--and their East German proxies---are dismal and combative. People
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disappear. The East Germans are beginning to develop their notorious internal security apparatus, but at this stage they must always defer to Moscow. The hero comes home--after having fled the Nazis--partially to avoid appearing before HUAC and the McCarthyism running rampant in his adopted nation. At least on one level he believes that East Berlin may be a place for him--as it is for Brecht and other left-wing German artists. But then, as he is reunited with friends and lovers, he is confronted with the amorality of espionage on both sides, and discovers that trust is a very iffy thing, even for the German woman he has always loved: she is at least an ambitious opportunist in forming a sexual liaison with the Russian chief of security. But she responds to the ex-pat as well, and promises heaven together if they can just avoid the world around them. So this is a novel that works on multiple levels--a romance, an espionage saga, a description of post-war Berlin and the ideas that are as palpable in the ruined city as are holes where houses used to be. Kanon attempts to juggle all of this--as well as his hero's ambivalence over being in a place so recently Nazi--and keeps all the balls in the air and the reader on the edge of his/her seat. A very satisfying, very intelligent read.
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LibraryThing member camharlow2
Set in January 1949 in Berlin during the airlift when the western part of the city was blockaded by the Russians, Joseph Kanon’s novel stands in good comparison to his earlier books. The story centres on Alex Meier, a Jewish Berliner, who has returned to the city from which he had escaped in the
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Second World War after having been forced to leave America for refusing to testify to the House Un-American Activities committee. In reality, he is working for the CIA who have promised to support his re-entry to America in exchange for information. However, the German secret police want him to inform on other returnees to Germany, so a dangerous game to try to navigate between the two sides ensues.
The story moves at a cracking pace and Kanon is his usual trustworthy self in creating the charged atmosphere of the era and place, making it a very entertaining read.
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LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
A historical spy thriller set in East Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. Alex Meier, a German author of Jewish ancestry, spent the WWII years in California only to find himself returning to Germany after falling afoul of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. Despite appearances, Alex has a secret mission
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in East Berlin - if he can become a valuable spy for the West, he may just earn a ticket back to the United States, where his young son awaits. Full of spies, schemes, murder, and state secrets, this novel certainly captures the spirit of the Cold War.
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LibraryThing member sianpr
Joseph Kanon writes a taut thriller set in Berlin in the days following the conclusion of WW11. Harking back to the days of the Cold War & McCarthyism, the plot is narrated through Alex Meier, a German jew who escaped to the US during the war but finds that his socialist leanings oblige him to
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return to Germany to spy for the CIA in the fledging East German state. Lots of action ensues and of course there's a femme fatale for good measure. Good book for a cold winter's day.
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LibraryThing member gmmartz
Joseph Kanon has written a pitch-perfect novel about a place, a time, and a profession that are becoming less and less familiar to many Americans. Post-WWII Berlin was a complicated city, and when an ex-Berliner returns from America as an honored artistic guest, he becomes very popular with the
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American, east German, and Russian 'political' communities. Throw in some of his past relationships with characters that are still around, and you have the basis for a complex thriller.

I love Kanon's writing- his pace and style perfectly match the plot details. The story itself is excellent and the writing is highly evocative. If you love spy thrillers and you enjoy excellent writing, this is a great one to pick up.
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LibraryThing member mcdenis
Slow moving account of double agents after WWII and their espionage activities which include murder, double-cross and deceit in the East German sector of Berlin. The novel is very time oriented to a specific period of history and place and doesn't really pick speed and suspense until close to the
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end.
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LibraryThing member gpaisley
Outstanding on so many levels. Absolutely gut-wrenching, yet so real for Berlin in those days--no one knows who anyone is and anyone can turn on anyone. Who can you trust? Brilliant story and commentary. This is the best Kanon I have read yet.
LibraryThing member techeditor
Joseph Kanon has written another winner. LEAVING BERLIN is a post-World War II novel that I would call historical fiction/thriller. Here is Berlin four years after the Nazis, now not yet totally Stalinist but divided into sectors. Alex Meier, a socialist who left Berlin before the war, has
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returned. He lives in the Russian sector.

But this book is, most of all, a thriller. Meier is recruited by the Americans to spy on his old girlfriend and, not much later, he is recruited by a German Communist. And, my, what a tangled web! Meier gets a real good idea of what life in East Germany is becoming.

This is an intelligent can’t-put-it-down book, both plot- and character-driven. I need a sequel.

Thank you to luxuryreading.com for the lovely hardcover copy of LEAVING BERLIN. It's a keeper!
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LibraryThing member cfk
Kanon has written a solid espionage tale with so many twists and turns, there's just no second guessing him. Alex Meier refused to cave into the McCarthy era pressure to give up friends and neighbors as secret Commies plotting the overthrow of America. As a German Jew, Meier had fled to America
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ahead of the mass slaughter of Jews, but had kept his original passport. Deported by McCarthy's minions, Meier was recruited by a CIA agent to 'earn' his right to return to America a free man by spying for the CIA in the Russian zone of Berlin.
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LibraryThing member Faradaydon
You must read Joseph Kanon, friends said. You'll love him. I should have chosen another book because this is a plodding disappointment.
LibraryThing member MHanover10
What a wonderfully written story. Mr. Kanon is a fantastic storyteller who takes the reader through some dangerous situations while educating them on what happened after the war ended. He does a great job showing how scary Berlin was even several years after the war ended. How people were still
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being sent away for talking against authority.

Our office building security guy was in Berlin after the war and as I was reading this book I kept thinking about him and what he might have gone through and if he even dealt with some of these types of characters.

Pick this one up. You will be pulled into a story where you will be cheering for the different characters to succeed and survive.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Kanon's historical fiction manages to bring to life the years following WWII, and his writing of Berlin in this work is outstanding. Leaving Berlin's blend of espionage, drama, and suspense makes for a powerful, page-turning read, and as always, Kanon's characters and gorgeous writing are
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masterful. This is certainly more espionage-heavy than some of his other historical fiction, so it's a slightly different type of reading and takes a bit more focus, but I couldn't put it down.

Absolutely recommended.
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LibraryThing member John_Warner
The protagonist in this historical novel of the early days of the Cold War is Alex Meier, a German Jewish socialist who escaped the Holocaust by fleeing Berlin to become a successful writer in Los Angeles. However, when he refused to name some of his socialist associates to Sen. Joseph McCarthy
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House Committee on Un-American Activities, he lost his marriage, the ability to see his child, and returned to Berlin. Post-WWII Berlin was partitioned, East to the Russians and West to the U.S. and Great Britain. Espionage was very active between the two sectors. Wanting to return to the United States, Alex is approached by the CIA, who promises him to clear his name in return for information that the CIA believe that he can obtain from a former girlfriend who is the mistress of a Soviet officer.
However, plans go awry when murders of East German and Russian officials and re-acquaintances with the former girlfriend find Alex playing the CIA, East German police and Soviets against each other.

Enjoying Kanon's previous work, Los Alamos, I looked forward to reading this novel. However, I found much of the plot tedious and plodding, especially the game-playing between the Berlin adversaries. The action scenes are the only thing which kept me reading.
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LibraryThing member Gmomaj
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
Show More
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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member susannelson
I found this book difficult to read in that I had to work very hard at keeping who was who and which side they were on straight. As I got to the middle of the book I had a moment of realization that this book was written as if it were a movie script and the visuals that go with the dialogue would
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clear things up and would make it a terrific movie. The story itself was wonderful and I could see me sitting engrossed in the theater and thoroughly enjoying it.
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LibraryThing member Karlstar
Set in late 40's East Berlin, this is a spy thriller. Alex Meier, a German Jew, fled Germany for the USA in the 30's, then was forced by McCarthyism to flee back to East Berlin - but not without making a deal with the USA to be a spy. Once again on his home streets, he meets other survivors of the
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war, including an old flame. Life gets extremely complicated as he is recruited by the Soviets and the East Germans, while still trying to keep the Americans happy. Lots of action and a great look at East Berlin of the time.
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LibraryThing member dano35ie
A fantastic book and a look into Berlin in ‘49. Brilliant characters and real suspense in every chapter. Would definitely read it again.
LibraryThing member Maydacat
This seems to be a story you will find really compelling or you will find it a chore to read. While I can appreciate the former group, I find myself in the latter. I found the writing style off-putting, with too much awkward dialogue. I was never invested in the characters nor the outcome of the
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story. After reading the several accolades printed on the book jacket, I feel I must have missed something, but I’m afraid I will have to live with that knowledge. I can’t see myself reading another book by this author.
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LibraryThing member viking2917
A post-WWII spy novel, set in the time of the Berlin Airlift. Alex Meier is a German Jewish writer, expelled from America for being unwilling to testify against Communist friends, then convinced to become a spy in order to be able to see his son. A good whodunit and some surprising double crosses,
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all in the wrappings of a spy novel. If you like Alan Furst, you'll love this.
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LibraryThing member addunn3
Interesting story of defector to East Germany shortly after WWII. The interplay of the different powers at that time made for a fascinating read.
LibraryThing member etxgardener
This is a terrific Cold War spy thriller in the style of John LeCarre and Alan Furst that takes place in divided Berlin during the Berlin Airlift.

Alex Meier is a German writer who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930’s for America, but then after the war fell afoul of Joseph McCarthy’s Committee on
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Unamerican Activities and had to flee the country. He’s invited to return to the East, and at the opening of the book finds himself being feted by the Kulterbund of Eastern Grmany.

All too soon, however, things start to go wrong. A Man is killed before his eyes, his old flame, Irene, is sleeping with a Russian agent, and a childhood acquaintance is in the East German secret service. Then his Irene’s brother shows up having escaped form the slave labor camp where the Soviets kept German prisoners of war, and Alex realizes that he has to try & help get him to the west.

There are twists and turns and switches on the switch that will keep you turning the pages until the very end.
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Original publication date

2015

ISBN

1476704643 / 9781476704647
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