Leaving Berlin – Joseph Kanon

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Leaving Berlin – Joseph Kanon

Post by Graham on Sun Nov 25, 2018 1:09 pm

Leaving it on the shelf would have been a better idea.

Sometimes it takes a chapter or two to accustom yourself to an author’s style, but Kanon’s remains full of annoying mannerisms till the last page. He doesn’t like verbs, or whole sentences in general. While this is occasionally forgivable in dialogue, Kanon litters his prose with it. Then there are strange disjuncts like this:

“I was in Leuna once”, Alex said to Sasha. Keep it going.

The overall effect is distracting like speaking to someone with multiple nervous tics. Kanon is competent just not particularly good. Once that feeling sets in it’s difficult to believe what I read. Is it authentic, Berlin immediately after the war and before the wall went up? I’ve no idea, but a lot of it just doesn’t ring true. On his first day in the occupied city, Alex, a returning émigré writer, kills a Russian agent. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen but Kanon has to make it believable and he doesn’t. Alex has made a devil’s bargain with the American security administration. He will report gossip for them and eventually be allowed to return to America without the taint of fellow-traveller. Later that day he is the star attraction at a Kulturbund reception. I would be curled up in a corner, crying. We are not in the real world here. It’s about as realistic as an Eastenders script.

How does stuff like this get published? On the cover it says, ‘Author of the bestseller Istanbul Passage’. I thought perhaps Leaving Berlin was an earlier effort but no, it was published later.

What does it have going for it? The sense of paranoia and moral compromise is good and the plot is moderately intriguing. If you like cold-war thrillers and your toleration for bad writing is high then by all means read it.

I forgot the sex scene. It is the most excruciatingly bad sex scene I have ever read. At this point I was ready to press the fast forward button.

I won’t be reading any more of him.

Graham
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