I am a 65-year-old psychologist, married for 25 years, with two sons who are 25 and 22. I love reviewing the books and the feedback I get.
Joseph Kanon can write, that's for sure, and Jefferson Mays is a good narrator. Nonetheless, listening to this book was a deeply ambivalent experience for me. For one, WWII was well over sixty years ago. Two, Schindler's List was such an astounding work of art that it is in a class by itself. I know one can't compare an audiobook to a movie, but the story of helping the traumatized Jews leave Germany and Poland has been covered many times. The setting of this book, Istanbul, is an interesting city to read about, and the characters are well drawn. However, the book is weighed down by millions of details, and it really does get boring. The love interest between Leon Bauer and Kay Bishop is one place at which the book comes alive. This furtive relationship is a sidebar, though. The plot centers on Leon's attempt to get a Romanian monster, a true butcher of Jews, out of Istanbul and into the West. It is possible to respect and admire this book without actually enjoying it. Kanon does a great job of weaving historical truth with fiction, but, for my money, Martin Cruz Smith is such a master of this genre that no one can touch him. The atmosphere of the book is quaint and dated. I know that it does not take place in the present, but I just did not feel lured into it. The writing is turgid and distanced. This one is only for true WWII history buffs. Another movie which tells a closely related story (I know I'm straying here) and which few people have seen, is Charlotte Grey. Cate Blanchett is the finest actor of our generation, in my opinion, and the movie tells the story in a gripping, deeply involving way which moves you to a welter of emotions. I would see it five or six times (and I have) before listening to this book.
This has to be one of the most boring and tedious espionage books I have listened to. Only the narrator saves it. The plot sounds fairly exciting. The main character, Leon, acts as a part time courier for am official, Tommy, at the British Embassy. The opening scene is exciting. Leon is at the docks awaiting a boat which is brining a Romanian defector with USSR/KGB secrets for the Americans. Gun fire erupts and Leon kills his assailant only to discover that he has killed the Brit from whom he has worked as an occasional courier. Obviously Tommy was a double agent.
The balance of the books deals with Leon trying to discover who Tommy really worked for, and trying to see that the Romanian is delivered to the American. Unfortunately this exciting sounding plot is revealed not by action, but by long and often boring conversation with a large number of people Leon meets at parties, at the Embassy, etc.
Combined with this story are the flashbacks about Leon’s life and marriage in pre-war Berlin to Anna, who as the result of traumatic accident now lies in a coma in a nursing home. Leon faithfully goes to see here and hold long conversations with here about what he is doing and what his plans are.
For a little spice, he has an affair with Kay Bishop, an embassy wife, whose husband is murdered. Suspicion falls on Leon. Again most of this is revealed through long conversation. I skipped a lot of the part about his relationship with Kay – he spent one night with here in a hotel room and the conversations they had goes on for several hours on the audio book. I skipped it. There is just too much tedious conversation like that to make the book an entertaining read.
Although it has an exciting plot on paper, the author’s method of development may have a limited appeal. The author know Turkey and Istanbul very well, but even when he goes to a location we get a description of the location not in a word picture, bur rather with a long drawn-out conversation or worse monologues with flash backs about going to the location with Anna.
If you can tolerate a book whose plot development is done mostly with long conversations with a variety of characters and very little action, you may like this book.. But the author is no Eric Ambler or Alan Furst.
I've read other very good books by Kanon and had high expectations concerning Istanbul Passage. But it turned out to be a very disappointing experience. The plot is quite interesting, but the novel never really gets off the ground. I believe Kanon was aiming for a novel about a reflexive, postmodern, spy in post-war Istanbul. But it turned out to be too reflexive for my taste, with very slow and artificial dialogue and halting action.
Probably a book by William Lashner or Joseph Finder.
I think Scott Brick would have done a great job.
The problem that the plot hinges on is quite interesting: how to get an ex-Romanian fascist with a lot of knowledge on Russian intelligence out of Istanbul and into the hands of the CIA.
Warning: there is a description of a Holocaust atrocity in this book. Personally I tend to avoid books with details on atrocities. If you can get past that the book is strong on atmosphere replicating in print and in Istanbul the ambiance of the movie Casablanca. It’s post WWII and spy vs. spy is undergoing changing allegiances. Leone, an occasional hired hand of the US consulate conducts clandestine operations. He is asked to pick up and deliver freight.” The freight is a Nazi with information of interest to the US. The intrigue begins and gets complicated but easy to follow. The writing style is a few notches below literary and is at times melodramatic. Occasionally it skirts the edge of pulp fiction before scampering back to first rate descriptions of Istanbul. The ending is a bit drawn out with a surprise that many readers will surmise prior to its revelation. All in all the book is not a bad rendering of the first freeze of the cold war in a colorful setting.
Well crafted story in an unusual setting, with plenty of twists and turns. I could see Istanbul in my mind's eye, and it made me want to visit there.
I listen to audiobooks mainly while commuting 90 minutes a day and when walking. Sometimes when knitting.
I have read and listened to several of Joseph Kanon's books and they have all been excellent. This one is different than the usual WWII spy thriller but fascinating none the less. Set in Istanbul just after WWII has ended and full of interesting characters and intrigue. Highly recommended!
too hard too follow in an audio book, maybe it would've been better as a read
It was last month's book club selection, or I wouldn't have finished it.
Narrators various voices and accents. An atmosphere of postwar Turkey.
My favorite was Los Alamos, less favorite was The Good German. This book was perhaps the second best, although it was often painstakingly slow and drawn out.
His characterizations made the story come alive. I might not have finished the book if I was reading it.
Love having someone read me a story. Fires in the hearth, rain on the roof, sunny days and surf. Good friends, good food and J S Bach.
The story shaped up to being a good work for two thirds of the book.
The last quarter to third did not 'read' like the same author.
While we humans may not be exactly rational and can make some very odd decisions,it was more than a man very carefully fleshed out, doing something odd. The style changed.
Maybe editorial interference, "We need more Action." sort of thing or Kanon just wanting a certain kind of ending to this novel. For me it failed.
If it was a hard copy I doubt I would keep in my shelves.
The general subject and location was interesting for me. I did like Mays reading of the story. Other than that this was a disappointing listen.
As there is some excellent fiction available through Audible. I would suggest your credit or dollars could be better used.
Not as good as Alan Furst, Martin Cruz Smith, or Eric Ambler. The story drags to a point that I switched to something else