Leaving Berlin (Book Review)

In these latter months of 2015 I’ve made a deliberate attempt to shift away from my digital existence, and start reading the printed word.

A few hundred yards from my office Waterstones stands as a portal to my step back into my previous analogue ways.

There’s something magical about the hand written synopsis next to the promoted books, and the carefully crafted front covers.

There’s a curious relationship between authors and their companions as they seek to reach the mass audience.

The cover of “Leaving Berlin” by Joseph Kanon seems to be a composite, created to transport curious readers into “another world” for the princely sum of £7.99.

One of my friends tells me that the illustrator of his recently published work gets 3% of the cover price on his new title. He as the author is entitled to 17%.

Here’s the rub with “Leaving Berlin”, 90% of my purchasing decision was down to that crafted front cover.

So what was it like?  The plaudits from “The Times” and “Daily Telegraph”suggested this was going to be something rather special.

In truth the first 112 pages don’t paint a picture with sufficient clarity.  One moment (the central character) is wandering around the war torn remnants of Berlin in 1949, the next he’s reliving his childhood.

The words don’t always paint the picture with sufficient clarity for the reader to see what’s in flashback, and what’s transpiring at a particular moment.

People with only a sketchy knowledge of the post-war political scene may find the movement between the allied and Russian zones of Berlin confusing.

It was only after I consulted Wikipedia that I realised “The Berlin Wall” was an edifice built 12 years after the time frame given here.

I could have stopped reading at any moment, but once into the third chapter the novel seems to be written by a new man. The story gaining a relentless momentum with all the plausibility of a Daniel Craig Bond movie.

We’re right there with Alex and he his pre-war chums as they seek to beat the Russian stranglehold on remnants of the German aggressors. The new socialist state is no better than the fascist juggernaut which had ground to a halt half a decade earlier.

Layer upon layer of characters come into view, and our hero (who’s nothing less than an allied spy) has to work out who he can trust, who he can manipulate, and how he can keep one step ahead of his new German and Soviet colleagues.

I wonder if the author wrote the latter chapters first, and then crafted the first third of the book to suit the “action scenes” at the end?

By the time I’d turned the last page all the loose ends had come together to create a very satisfactory whole.  I’d be very happy to watch the whole story unfold on “The Big Screen”, having established this as an EIGHT out of TEN literary experience.









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