Leaving Berlin by Joseph Cannon is a spy thriller taking place in the complex world of 1949 Berlin. Although post-war Germany was not yet officially split into two separate countries, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies is at its height. Berlin is full of spies from all sides, and is a dangerous place. People sometimes just disappear into the night, never to be seen again.
Dropped into this world as an unwilling spy is Alex Meier, a German Jewish writer who had fled from Nazi Germany to the United States, in order to escape the concentration camps. He was living as a successful writer in California until he refused to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee which suspected him of being a communist. Since Alex is technically still a German citizen, he is deported from the U.S. back to Germany.
This is where the story begins. All parts of eastern Germany and East Berlin are controlled by the Soviet Union. The East German leaders are glad to welcome a famous communist writer who stood up to the American government.
What the East Germans do not know is that Alex no longer considers himself a German or a communist. He thinks of himself as an American and desperately wants to return to California and his family there. That is why he agrees to spy for the Americans.
What Alex soon discovers is that Germany is just as dangerous for him now as when he fled from the Nazis. In fact ,in many ways it is more dangerous since it has become even more difficult to tell the good from the bad.
In post war East Germany there are not really any good guys. There are just different levels of bad. There are East German secret police, Soviet agents and, of course, ex-Nazis. The Americans are really no better, since they are much more interested in the information Alex can discover than in Alex’s safety.
The book is very well written and you do not have to be well versed in History to enjoy it. The main story is not about politics, but about moral choices and what people will and will not do to survive.
We highly recommend this book.