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Leaving Berlin

Leaving Berlin

3.4 15
by Joseph Kanon

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Joshua Hammer
…this engaging thriller…deftly captures the ambience of a city that's still a wasteland almost four years after the Nazis' defeat…Kanon keeps the story humming along, enriching the main narrative with vignettes that heighten the atmosphere of duplicity and distrust.
Publishers Weekly
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 Carré)—and what's more, he's very good at it. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Mar.)
The New York Times Book Review
“Engaging. . . . deftly captures the ambience of a city that’s still a wasteland almost four years after the Nazis’ defeat. . . . Kanon keeps the story humming along, enriching the main narrative with vignettes that heighten the atmosphere of duplicity and distrust.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
“Story, suspense, substance, and style are inextricably linked in a work that masterfully exploits and exquisitely transcends spy-genre possibilities.”
New York Daily News
"Kanon, who writes his novels at the New York Public Library, conjures from there a Berlin of authentic menace and such hairpin turns that Leaving Berlin evokes comparisons to John LeCarre and Alan Furst. Such good company."
“Kanon, like Alan Furst, has found a landscape and made it his own. In fact, the two writers make outstanding bookends in any collection of WWII fiction, Furst bringing Paris just before and during the war to vivid life, and Kanon doing the same for Berlin in its aftermath.”
Alexander McCall Smith

“If you are looking for a combination of le Carre and Graham Greene, Leaving Berlin will do the trick perfectly. . . . One of the most exciting books I have read for years.”
the Scotsman Allan Massie
“Galloping and compulsive…I can’t imagine anyone putting it down…. Admirably atmospheric, the picture of the ravaged Berlin excellently done… An enjoyable thriller,high-class entertainment.”
The Times Kate Saunders
“An unforgettable picture of a city wrecked by defeat and riddled withbetrayal. Brilliant."
Sunday Express
“Kanon brings the hardships and moral decay of post-war Berlin to lifein glorious detail, ratcheting up the suspense as Meier tries to escape the netclosing in on all sides. Absorbing.”
Wall Street Journal
“Joseph Kanon’s thought-provoking, pulse-pounding historical espionage thriller [is] stuffed with incident and surprise. . . . Mr. Kanon, author now of seven top-notch novels of period political intrigue, conveys the bleak, oppressive, and creepy atmosphere of occupied Berlin in a detailed, impressive manner. . . . Leaving Berlin is a mix of tense action sequences, sepia-tinged reminiscence, convincing discourse and Berliner wit.”
Ft. Worth Star Telegram
“The old-fashioned spy craft, the many plot twists and the moral ambiguities that exist in all of the characters make Leaving Berlin an intriguing, page-turning thriller.There’s also a star-crossed love story — and an airport farewell — that might remind some readers of Bogie and Bergman. But it’s the author’s attention to historical detail — his ability to convey the sights, sounds and feel of a beaten-down Berlin — that makes this book so compelling.”
Buffalo News
“Not for nothing has Kanon – whose previous books include The Good German, which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, has been compared to the suspense masters Graham Greene and John LeCarre. He’s certainly in the ballpark.”
Library Journal
The bleakness of postwar Berlin serves as the setting for Kanon's evocative novel about Jewish author Alex Meier, who flees the Nazis but in America faces persecution from the McCarthy witch hunts. He agrees to spy on behalf of the CIA in Berlin to ensure his return to the States and his family. (LJ 1/1/15)
Kirkus Reviews
Set in 1949, a few years after Kanon's The Good German (2001), this novel explores the grave moral complexities of life in Soviet-controlled East Berlin through the tense encounters of Alex Meier, a young Jewish novelist of some renown working for the CIA.A native of Berlin, Alex fled the Nazis for America before World War II. When his leftist politics got him in trouble in the U.S., costing him his marriage, he struck a deal to go back to Germany as an undercover spy with the promise that he could return to America with his record cleared. His cover story is that he missed his homeland, like other returning intellectuals including Bertolt Brecht (a minor character in the book). In fact, he has greatly missed Irene, the woman he left behind, whose romantic involvement with a Russian makes her one of his targets. Like everything else in the wreckage of the blockaded city, where going for a walk through the park attracts suspicion, his reunion with her is fraught with danger—especially after her ailing brother shows up, having escaped a Russian labor camp. The novel has its share of abductions and killings, one of which leaves Alex in the classic role of odd man out. Following his action-charged Istanbul Passage (2012), Kanon relies almost exclusively on dialogue to tell his story, which sometimes leaves the reader feeling as hemmed in as the Berliners. But the atmosphere is so rich, the characters so well-drawn and the subject so fascinating that that is a minor complaint. Another compelling, intellectually charged period piece by Kanon, who works in the shadows of fear as well as anyone now writing.

Product Details

Atria Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

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Leaving Berlin

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    Meet the Author

    Joseph Kanon is the Edgar Award–winning author of Leaving Berlin, Istanbul Passage, Los Alamos, The Prodigal Spy, Alibi, Stardust, and The Good German, which was made into a major motion picture starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett. He lives in New York City.

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    Leaving Berlin 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I really got into it. It turned into one of those books you say you will just read one more chapter before bed and then suddenly it is midnight. The historical backdrop is really well done, it's really interesting reading about post-war Berlin, and the early phases of the cold war. The plot is just suspenseful enough to keep the story very interesting and is part of what makes it a page turner. Anyone who enjoys reading historical fictions and mystery/thrillers like those by Daniel Silva and Brad Thor might like this book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Very interesting, exciting story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found it realistic and was a page turner for me. Would read this author again.
    Warlock63 More than 1 year ago
    Writing style is poor.Talk about run on sentences .You don't know if you are in the present or past.Forever trying to figure out where you are in the storyline
    knaresPF More than 1 year ago
    up to the usual excellent standard
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Compelling story but far too many coincidences to move to story forward: choppy writing style. The main character, Alex, is far too opaque to gain sympathy. An 'OK' read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Kanon knows what he is doing when combining a time, a place and a story that leaves you guessing.
    Anonymous 9 months ago
    Hard to put down and with an excellent ending that I didn't expect. Many twists and turns, very exciting.
    Billknc More than 1 year ago
    I read "The Good German" and enjoyed it but I could not get into this book. The flashbacks and vague characters made it difficult to remember who was who so I finally just gave up.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The flashbacks were confusing. But good plot twists. Who do you trust?
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    what a great book !!! I enjoyed a lot.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago