Customer Review

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than a who dunnit?, 17 Jun. 2002
This review is from: The Good German (Hardcover)
The slow beginning is designed to immerse the reader in the atmosphere of the Berlin of the early after war months. It is July 1945 at the time of the Potsdam Conference. Kanon is known for his ability to take you virtually by the hand and to lead you through a place. Here, it is particularly dramatic: ruins, bombed out houses, roads blocked by rubble, empty spaces where, before, Berliners had lived - and where the protagonist himself had lived as a journalist.
His search through the ruins, the alleyways, intent on finding his love of the happier pre-war days is increasingly desparate. Is she still alive? Where would she be? Finding a person in those early after-war months in Germany was almost impossible; no records were available, the houses where they had lived often destroyed and no forwarding address - unless you got really lucky. Kanon's description of Berlin is accurate - based on visits to the modern Berlin and his in depth research of the Berlin of 1945 and the changes since then. You could easily use it as a tour guide of a different kind.
But, of course that is not the story. The story of the returning US journalist and his German girlfriend represents the red thread through the book. Her family is mixed in with the plot. The description of day-to-day life gives the story reality and perspective. People do a lot for a package of cigarettes.
The story unfolds slowly, a hushed-up murder, and many dead-end leads. But things turn out to be a lot more complex as you go: more deaths and threats, intrigue and false allies. And the tension grows. It is a thriller after all: a thriller with political messages as well as interesting character developments.
In addition to Jake, the protagonist and Lena, his girlfriend, we meet interesting characters, in particular among the Germans. While the Russians dismantled factories, taking home whatever technology they could find, a special team from the US's occupying forces was looking for the scientists and experts who designed the technology in the first place. The Russians realized the problem and tried to get in on the act. Would it work? So, who is the Good German?
The events around the Potsdam Conference provide a useful backdrop. It fits the story well to observe the increasing tension between US and Soviet soldiers who easily turn to an exchange of gunfire to mask more sinister intentions. The context is the beginnings of the next war (the cold war), at least in the minds of some US officials and military.
Kanon's book is in a category of its own. More than a thriller and more than a romantic story, it is a skillfully put together account of a complex situation in a difficult moment of time. It is successful as "a good read" and as a chronicle of events that gives the reader food for thought and reflection.
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