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The Good German by Joseph Kanon
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The Good German (2001)

by Joseph Kanon

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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
A touching mystery in the days following the fall of Nazi Germany with just a dash of a love story thrown in. I LOVE the concept. I love the storyline. I love it ALL! A must read for those who enjoy historical mysteries! Save yourself though & skip the movie. It's not just that the book is 10X better, but also that the movie is just plain awful. ( )
  cebellol | Jul 22, 2014 |
This is a very good mystery and a very, very good rendering of what life must have been like in Berlin during the weeks and months immediately following the surrender of Nazi Germany. Kanon investigates the nature of guilt, on both a national/cultural and a personal scale as both Allies and Germans alike begin to deal with the aftermath of the war and the pervasive horrors of the Holocaust. Again, the issues drawn are both large-scale and personal. Also crucial to the plot is the manner in which the Americans and Russians immediately launch into "the next war" as they jockey for position and power in divided Berlin. And then there is the divide among the Americans between those intent in bringing Nazis to trial and those who mostly want to pick up the pieces, move on, and get back to business. Not incidentally, this includes making use of German rocket scientists regardless of whatever their Nazi activity might have been. The protagonist is Jake Geismar. An American reporter stationed in Berlin before the war, Geismar has developed a deep regard for Germany and Berlin in particular. After spending the war years as a reporter with Patton, he returns to Berlin on assignment, and, more importantly for him, to try to find his pre-war lover. Having lived in Berlin right up to the beginning of hostilities, he has no illusions about who the Nazis had been, but still, as he begins to understand the true depth of the corruption of a German society and people he thought he had known, the question that comes most frequently to him is, "What happened to everybody?"

Kanon is very, very skillful at exploring these issues. Here are two passages that illuminate what I mean, much longer quotes than I normally feel comfortable including, I'm afraid. The first passage and the beginning of the second, be warned, are pretty unpleasant. The scene is a dinner early on at that includes a visiting U.S. Congressman (one of the "Let's not bother with the small fry; let's just get back to business" crowd) and a young officer, Bernie Teitel, Jewish, involved in investigating individual war crimes.

"'Small fry,' Bernie said again. 'Here's one.' He reached into the pile and pulled out a few buff-colored sheets. 'Otto Klopfer. Wants to drive for us. Experienced. Says he drove a truck during the war. He just didn't say what kind. One of the mobile units, it turns out. The exhaust pipe ran back into the van. They'd load about fifty, sixty people in there, and old Otto would just keep the motor running until they died. We found out because he wrote a letter to his CO.' He held up a sheet. 'The exhaust was taking too long. Recommended they seal the pipes so it would work faster. The people were panicking, trying to get out. He was afraid they'd damage the truck.' Another silence, this time so still that even the air around Bernie seemed to stop."

And then this as Geismer considers later . . .

"Jake lit a cigarette. Had Otto Klopfer smoked in the cab while he ran the motor, listening to the thumps behind him? There must have been screaming, a furious pounding on the van. And he'd sat there, foot on the pedal. How could they do it? All the questions came back to that. He'd seen it on the faces of the GIs, who'd hated France and then, confused, felt at home in Germany. The plumbing, the wide roads, the blond children grateful for candy, their mothers tirelessly sweeping up the mess. Clean. Hardworking. Just like us. Then they'd seen the camps, or at least the newsreels. How could they do it? The answer, the only one that made sense to them, was that they hadn't--somebody else had. But there wasn't anybody else. So they stopped asking. Unless, like Teitel, the hook had gone in too deep. . . . He realized suddenly that . . . what the city had really become was not a bomb site but a vast scene of the crime. Shaken, waiting for someone to bring the stretcher and erase the chalk marks and put the furniture back. Except this crime wouldn't go away, even then. There would always be a body in the middle of the floor. How could they do it? Sealing pipes, locking doors, ignoring the screams? It was the only question. But who could answer it? Not a reporter with four pieces in Collier's. The story was beyond that, a twisted parody of Goebbels' big lie--if you made the crime big enough, nobody did it. All the pieces he might do, full of local color and war stories and Truman's horse-trading, were not even notes for the police blotter."

And this is what I mean by skillful. In addition to the excellent writing itself, Kanon, by presenting us with the story of Otto Klopfer and his truck, personalizes the question, creating a small, manageable scale as a foundation for consideration of the universal horror.

Or, you can just read The Good German as a very fine noir-ish murder mystery, set in and growing out of the very early days of the Cold War. The plot pacing is very good, the characters believable and the mystery itself engaging. Even the romance serves to move the story forward rather than stopping it in its tracks. One last aside: as you can see, the copy of this book I plucked off the shelves of my own bookstore has a movie tie-in cover. I haven't seen the movie, I don't know if I will, but the casting of George Clooney in the lead role I think was perfect. ( )
2 vote rocketjk | Jun 8, 2013 |
During the initial occupation of Germany, Russians and the other Allies jockeying for positions, for German brain power, this novel proved to be engaging and intelligent. How could the Germans let all that is WWII happen? All the reasons are intertwined in a very good plot: anti--semitism, fear for their lives, fear for the lives of those they loved, survival, nationalism, fear of communism. On and on. It happened. ( )
  Elpaca | May 1, 2013 |
I read ISTANBUL PASSAGE last month and thoroughly enjoyed it. Someone said I should read THE GOOD GERMAN if I liked that. All I can do is echo the same. I thought THE GOOD GERMAN was a well told story in a setting and time that couldn't have been more real. It's Berlin in the summer of 1945, between the end of was in Europe and the end of war with Japan. As seems to be true now with Joseph Kanon's methid he weaves an intricate plot between historical fact and in this book, as in ISTANBUL PASSAGE, he succeeds quite well. Highly recommend this read to anyone who likes this sort of stuff. ( )
  JackSussek | Jul 31, 2012 |
First, if you have seen the movie, switch off the memories. I liked the movie. Indeed it was one of the two factors that led me to buy the book. That said the movie collapsed characters and severely altered the story line. Different media and all that. What this book is is a good police procedural dressed up as a costume drama and then dolled up further as a questionable morality play. The morality play part is trite, obvious to anyone who knows the period and superfluous. It is part of why 4 stars instead of 5. The other part of the missing star is that the characters are straight out of central casting. Two paragraphs into each of them and you know them from a hundred prior novels and movies. They have no depth and will not stick with you the way say Elizabeth Yager from Rimrunners will. That said, they are serviceable devices to move the plot along. The period costume drama is excellently handled. It gives you the Berlin of Potsdam and the very early occupation without the burden of high politics. The Big Three are there essentially as stage props. I grew up around veterans of that war and the author seems to have nailed the sensibilities. The police procedural works better in the reading than the outline afterwards would indicate. By interweaving two mysteries and a host of loose ends that as in real life never get fully resolved the end is guessable but by no means obvious. The book is well worth the reading time and has sent me off to Amazon to buy another by the author. ( )
  agingcow2345 | Jun 9, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312426089, Paperback)

This compelling thriller is both a touching love story and a masterful portrayal of the struggle for geopolitical control of postwar Germany. Network correspondent Jake Geismar, who covered Berlin before the war, has returned to the devastated city, ostensibly to cover the Potsdam Conference but actually to find the woman he loves. Miraculously, Lena Brandt, Jake's wartime mistress, has survived. However, her mathematician husband is missing, and both the American and Russian intelligence services are hunting him. When the bullet-ridden body of an American soldier washes up on the shores of Potsdam in front of Jake's eyes just as Truman, Churchill, and Stalin convene the first postwar conference, Jake is plunged into a maelstrom of intrigue, corruption, and betrayal.

A brilliantly evoked portrait of a unique moment in history (the end of one war and the beginning of another), The Good German amply fulfills the promise shown by Joseph Kanon in his two earlier novels, Los Alamos and The Prodigal Spy. --Jane Adams

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:43 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

This compelling thriller is both a touching love story and a masterful portrayal of the struggle for geopolitical control of postwar Germany. Network correspondent Jake Geismar, who covered Berlin before the war, has returned to the devastated city, ostensibly to cover the Potsdam Conference but actually to find the woman he loves. When the bullet-ridden body of an American soldier washes up on the shores of Potsdam, Jake is plunged into a maelstrom of intrigue, corruption, and betrayal.… (more)

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