Leav­ing Berlin

Joseph Kanon
  • Review
By – June 29, 2015

Leav­ing Berlin is a grip­ping his­tor­i­cal thriller, set in Berlin four years after the end of World War II. Through an action-packed plot, read­ers gain a glimpse of what life was like there at the start of the Cold War, when the Stal­in­ists replaced the Nazis. In many ways, the book is so real­is­tic read­ers might for­get it is a thriller.

The sto­ry­line is based on the adven­tures of Alex Meier, a Ger­man writer whose father was Jew­ish and who sees him­self as a social­ist. With his family’s help, Alex escaped to Amer­i­ca before the Holo­caust. Although he did not have his heart with the Com­mu­nists, he still was swept up by the McCarthy era after refus­ing to name names to a Con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee. To avoid jail and con­tin­ue being a celebri­ty nov­el­ist, he makes a des­per­ate deal with the CIA. He must return to Berlin, pose as a dis­en­chant­ed exile, and gath­er action­able intel­li­gence by spy­ing on a for­mer lover.

Alex finds that espi­onage in Berlin is a fact of life. Through­out the sto­ry, Joseph Kanon shows the char­ac­ters to be unlike­ly spies. Some scenes might require the read­er to sus­pend belief as Alex sud­den­ly devel­ops into a mas­ter manip­u­la­tor who han­dles vio­lence with self-con­fi­dence. He is an amaz­ing­ly fast learn­er in the art of spy craft, but with­out this the thriller would be lack­ing in suspense.

Kanon sets the tone in the very first pages with an expla­na­tion in an author’s note about the set­ting and the var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions that played a key role in the sto­ry. Read­ers learn through the lead female char­ac­ter, Irene, about the dou­ble-deal­ing nec­es­sary to sur­vive by work­ing with the dif­fer­ent secret orga­ni­za­tions. Anoth­er char­ac­ter to sur­vive is her broth­er-in-law, an unapolo­getic Nazi doc­tor who worked for the Third Reich’s euthana­sia program.

Leav­ing Berlin is about betray­al, mur­der, and sur­vival. It is filled with intrigue that reminds read­ers of a peri­od and place where loy­al­ties were con­flict­ed and polit­i­cal maneu­ver­ing was preva­lent. This is a com­pelling read with a com­plex, riv­et­ing, and intri­cate plot.

Relat­ed Content:


Read Elise Coop­er’s inter­view with Joseph Kanon here.

Elise Coop­er lives in Los Ange­les and has writ­ten numer­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty arti­cles sup­port­ing Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many dif­fer­ent out­lets includ­ing the Mil­i­tary Press. She has had the plea­sure to inter­view best­selling authors from many dif­fer­ent genres.

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