Leaving Berlin

Political subterfuge and the nascent Cold War in 1949 is at the center of Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon (Istanbul Passage). Alex Meier escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to the U.S. and now writes novels in Hollywood. When the McCarthy witch hunts target him, he strikes a bargain with the CIA, agreeing to return to his native Berlin as a spy to prove his loyalty to the United States. But what awaits him in Berlin defies even his imagination as a writer: a botched kidnapping, the murder of an East German agent and encounters with friends from his past thrust him into danger and intrigue.

Blockaded West Berlin survives on daily airlifted supplies, while espionage and the black market rule the East. The German Kulturbund welcomes Meier, on resident visa, as a returning artist to East Germany, which allows him to make connections without arousing suspicion.

A likable hero, Meier despairs at the rubble of his home and city and faces reminders of his family's annihilation. His assignment is poignant and painful: to spy on his first love, Irene, whose survival depends on liaisons and whose current "friend" is a Soviet State Security officer. When Irene's POW brother escapes from laboring in Soviet uranium mines and arrives in Berlin, Meier ponders moral ambiguities as he determines whom to trust and how far he will go to help old friends while assuring his own survival.

A historically detailed, fast-paced thriller and a passionate love story, Leaving Berlin is also a grim reminder of how the Cold War tore at a Germany still reeling from years of Nazi power and war. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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