Leaving Berlin

A Novel

Leaving Berlin

New York Times Notable Book * NPR Best Books 2015 * Wall Street Journal Best Books of 2015

The acclaimed author of The Good German “deftly captures the ambience” (The New York Times Book Review) of postwar East Berlin in his “thought-provoking, pulse-pounding” (Wall Street Journal) New York Times bestseller—a sweeping spy thriller about a city caught between political idealism and the harsh realities of Soviet occupation.

Berlin, 1948. Almost four years after the war’s end, the city is still in ruins, a physical wasteland and a political symbol about to rupture. In the West, a defiant, blockaded city is barely surviving on airlifted supplies; in the East, the heady early days of political reconstruction are being undermined by the murky compromises of the Cold War. Espionage, like the black market, is a fact of life. Even culture has become a battleground, with German intellectuals being lured back from exile to add credibility to the competing sectors.

Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer, fled the Nazis for America before the war. But the politics of his youth have now put him in the crosshairs of the McCarthy witch-hunts. Faced with deportation and the loss of his family, he makes a desperate bargain with the fledgling CIA: he will earn his way back to America by acting as their agent in his native Berlin. But almost from the start things go fatally wrong. A kidnapping misfires, an East German agent is killed, and Alex finds himself a wanted man. Worse, he discovers his real assignment—to spy on the woman he left behind, the only woman he has ever loved. Changing sides in Berlin is as easy as crossing a sector border. But where do we draw the lines of our moral boundaries? At betrayal? Survival? Murder? Joseph Kanon’s compelling thriller is a love story that brilliantly brings a shadowy period of history vividly to life.
  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476704654 | 
  • March 2016
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Leaving Berlin includes an introduction, discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


When German-Jewish novelist Alex Meier returns to his native country after fifteen years of exile in the United States, he finds postwar Berlin in ruins and divided into American, British, French, and Soviet sectors. Alex, along with such luminaries as playwright Bertolt Brecht, has been invited to take up residence in what will soon become East Germany with the purpose of helping to shape culture in the fledgling socialist state. His Soviet keepers do not know that the CIA made a secret deal with Alex when the House Un-American Activities Committee ousted him from American soil: if he feeds US intelligence information about the Russian presence in Berlin, the US will allow him to return and be reunited with his young son in Los Angeles.

But for now, Alex must spy on the only woman he ever loved, Irene. The daughter of a prominent Berlin family, Irene survives in postwar Berlin as the mistress of an official in the Soviet Military Administration. Soon Irene’s brother, Erich, a German soldier presumed dead, reappears in Berlin, with explosive information see more

More Books from this Author

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The Good German

About the Author

Joseph Kanon
© Chad Griffith

Joseph Kanon

Joseph Kanon is the Edgar Award–winning author of DefectorsLeaving Berlin, Istanbul PassageLos AlamosThe Prodigal SpyAlibiStardust, and The Good German, which was made into a major motion picture starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett. He lives in New York City.