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The Good German by Joseph Kanon

The Good German (2001)

by Joseph Kanon

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Recommended by [a: Lavie Tidhar|572738|Lavie Tidhar|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1369652429p2/572738.jpg]
  supercoldd | Aug 27, 2015 |
An American reporter who lived in Berlin before WW2, returns in its immediate aftermath, to cover the Postdam conference and to find the woman he left behind.
The portrait of a bomb-ravaged Berlin, the people and the landscape, in the weeks after the Nazi surrender, is quite remarkable.
I watched the movie after reading the book. Skip it. They've changed the story in horrible fashion. It's awful. ( )
  BillPilgrim | Jul 14, 2015 |
I don't generally read spy novels or suspense thrillers these days, but I do have an enduring admiration for the work of John LeCarre, having read several of his books in years past. And Joseph Kanon's work has been justifiably compared to LeCarre's, and also to Graham Greene's, although the latter comparison is, I think, a bit of a stretch. But there is absolutely no doubt that Kanon knows how to grab a reader and spin a yarn and keep you turning pages late into the night. And all these things are certainly true of THE GOOD GERMAN, which I just finished whipping my way through. The characters in Kanon's books are, it seems to me, less important than the plot, in this case a murder mystery, and this was also true of LOS ALAMOS, the only other Kanon book I've read, that one set against the secrets and intrigues of the Manhattan Project. This time Kanon uses the Potsdam Conference as a backdrop, with seasoned journalist and war correspondent Jake Geismar, who has returned to a shattered Berlin after Germany has surrendered to find Lena Brandt, his married lover from before the war. He suddenly finds himself embroiled in a web of intrigue as he attempts to unravel the murder of an American officer. There is much here about the already ongoing competition and mistrust between the Americans and the Russians as both sides scramble to harvest the scientific knowledge of German technology and rocket science. But what comes through strongest of all is the immense suffering endured during the war, by both its innocent victims - the Jews - and also by the German people themselves, and the question that continually emerges is who will bear the responsibility for all the death and misery. Is there, in the awful aftermath of accusations and trials, even such a thing as a "good German."

There is a kind of breakneck pace to the story, as Jake tries to stay one pace ahead of the Russians and maybe some rotten Americans too. One of the more interesting characters is an alcoholic German policeman who Jake enlists to help him solve the ever more complex murder case. There are some rather steamy sex scenes when Jake and Lena reunite, as well as some shoot-em-up gun battles and even car chases and crashes - everything that would contribute to a successful film adaptation. And of course there was a film, which I have not seen, but I'll bet it's a damn good one.

This is a good book. Not great literature, but good solid writing and fine nail-biting, page-turning entertainment. Recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Nov 4, 2014 |
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 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:56 -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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