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.