Joseph Kanon has written a very exciting book about the politics and atmosphere in the world shortly after the end of World War II. With the demise of The Third Reich and the Social Democrats, the overriding fear of the Nazis receded and was replaced by a fear of Communism which when surfaced, rose to the top with a vengeance. After the war, many Nazis were actively recruited for their scientific backgrounds as the pursuit of a nuclear weapon emerged front and center as a goal for Russia, while at the same time, the United States was actively deporting suspected Communists who might be engaged as spies to further that and other ends.
In the 1930’s, prior to World War II, Alex Meier, a German Jew (half Jewish), was arrested in Germany, not for being Jewish, but for having ties to the Communist Party. As a political prisoner in Sachsenhausen, he was beaten and subjected to brutal conditions. When his freedom was purchased by Fritz von Bernuth, the father of close friends, he left his country behind and traveled to California where he intended to live out the rest of his life. However, at the war’s end, when the fear of Communism exploded, investigations led to the discovery of his background. His socialist and communist ties were uncovered. When, using blackmail-like tactics like those used in Russia and Germany, he still refused to give up the names of his friends, he was sent back to East Germany and forced to part from his wife and son.
Although anti-Semitism still raged on in Germany, he was welcomed as a Communist in East Germany. After being recruited as a spy by the CIA, he found himself also under the scrutiny of German Communists working for Russia. He is subtly blackmailed into working for them as well. The novel’s hero is a born double agent who managed to manipulate and outwit those that tried to murder him and/or use him to gain information. He finds he can do whatever he has to in order to survive and earn his way back, hopefully, to California where his now ex-wife and child reside. He is a devoted father
He discovers that his utopian vision of a Socialist Germany is not what it is cracked up to be. With Russia in charge, it is no different than it was in Germany before the war or in the United States, for that matter, as they sought to uncover secret Socialists and Communists whom they considered highly suspect and possibly dangerous. Because of his status as a writer, part of the new cultural wave sweeping Germany, he was entitled to a better way of life than most people. Instead of everyone getting the same, according to their needs, he was afforded extra ration cards, places to eat where ration cards were not needed and food was good and plentiful. He was treated like a celebrity, as an honored guest. Housing was quickly made available to him. However, he could not trust anyone because everyone was being used by the system to create a community that spied on each other to get what they needed to survive. There was no freedom as there was in America. He was very disillusioned with both systems, but he preferred to put those guilty to right and return to America.
The conclusion of the tale leaves the reader with more than a thriller resolved. It leaves the reader with some philosophical thoughts to ponder. How was it that the Germans complained about their suffering after the war, yet they had brought it upon themselves. They resented the rationing and the devastation, yet, they never took responsibility for the pain and suffering and destruction and loss of innocent lives for which they were responsible. How is it they didn’t notice the shortages in the ghettos, the disappearing victims, the theft of their belongings, the suddenly empty homes with no residents? It was only when it affected them, when the Russians were as barbaric as they had been, raping and pillaging, that they complained. They were not innocent, no matter how much they protested.
As far as I am concerned, anyone who did not speak out or try to stop Hitler’s advance, anyone who watched them invade their country and cheered them on as they murdered the Jews, humiliated the homosexuals, beat the gypsies, anyone like that was complicit and no matter what country they came from, they share in the guilt. That means the Poles, the French, the Russians, the Italians and all the fascists and all the anti-Semites will have to answer to some greater power, someday, for their despicable behavior.
I listened to this as an audiobook and found that transitions from one character and one scene or one time to another were sometimes awkward, but otherwise it really held my attention.