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Istanbul Passage: A Novel | [Joseph Kanon]

Istanbul Passage: A Novel

A neutral capital straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul has spent the war as a magnet for refugees and spies. Even American businessman Leon Bauer has been drawn into this shadow world, doing undercover odd jobs and courier runs for the Allied war effort. Now, as the espionage community begins to pack up and an apprehensive city prepares for the grim realities of postwar life, he is given one more assignment, a routine job that goes fatally wrong, plunging him into a tangle of intrigue and moral confusion.
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Publisher's Summary

From the acclaimed, best-selling author of Stardust, The Good German, and Los Alamos - a gripping tale of an American undercover agent in 1945 Istanbul who descends into the murky cat-and-mouse world of compromise and betrayal that will come to define the entire postwar era.

A neutral capital straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul has spent the war as a magnet for refugees and spies. Even American businessman Leon Bauer has been drawn into this shadow world, doing undercover odd jobs and courier runs for the Allied war effort. Now, as the espionage community begins to pack up and an apprehensive city prepares for the grim realities of postwar life, he is given one more assignment, a routine job that goes fatally wrong, plunging him into a tangle of intrigue and moral confusion.

Played out against the bazaars and mosques and faded mansions of this knowing, ancient Ottoman city, Leon's attempt to save one life leads to a desperate manhunt and a maze of shifting loyalties that threatens his own. How do you do the right thing when there are only bad choices to make? Istanbul Passage is the story of a man swept up in the aftermath of war, an unexpected love affair, and a city as deceptive as the calm surface waters of the Bosphorus that divides it.

Rich with atmosphere and period detail, Joseph Kanon's latest novel flawlessly blends fact and fiction into a haunting thriller about the dawn of the Cold War, once again proving why Kanon has been hailed as the "heir apparent to Graham Greene" (The Boston Globe).

©2012 Simon & Schuster; ©2012 Joseph Kanon

What the Critics Say

"Istanbul Passage bristles with authenticity. Joseph Kanon has a unique and admirable talent: He brilliantly marries suspense and historical fact, wrapping them around a core of pure human drama, while making it seem effortless. This isn't just talent; it's magic." (Olen Steinhauer, New York Times best-selling author of The Tourist)

"Istanbul Passage is a first-rate espionage novel, filled with complexity and thrills, but its greatest success may be in this much more universal literary exploration: how an ordinary man is transformed by extraordinary circumstances." (Publishers Weekly)

"With dialogue that can go off like gunfire and a streak of nostalgia that feels timeless, this book takes its place among espionage novels as an instant classic." (Kirkus Reviews)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.6 (273 )
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3.8 (208 )
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  •  
    Richard Delman San Francisco 06-03-12
    Richard Delman San Francisco 06-03-12 Member Since 2013

    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.

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    "A very somber experience."

    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.

    14 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Judith A. Weller LaVale, MD United States 11-09-13
    Judith A. Weller LaVale, MD United States 11-09-13 Member Since 2008

    jw1917

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    "Boring and Tedious"

    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.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rollin Cholula, Mexico 07-17-14
    Rollin Cholula, Mexico 07-17-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Not up to Kanon's standards"
    Would you try another book from Joseph Kanon and/or Jefferson Mays?

    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.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    Probably a book by William Lashner or Joseph Finder.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Jefferson Mays?

    I think Scott Brick would have done a great job.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    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.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Concerned Reader Stamford, CT, USA 05-13-14
    Concerned Reader Stamford, CT, USA 05-13-14 Member Since 2003

    Michael

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    "Post-WWII atmospheric spy v spy"
    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ellen 03-06-14
    Ellen 03-06-14
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    "Perfect escapist story"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    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.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 06-12-13

    I listen to audiobooks mainly while commuting 90 minutes a day and when walking. Sometimes when knitting.

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    "Great atmosphere and set in unusual time and place"

    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!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pamela Kingsburg, CA, United States 02-04-13
    Pamela Kingsburg, CA, United States 02-04-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Was like a homework assignment"
    Would you try another book from Joseph Kanon and/or Jefferson Mays?

    probably not


    Would you recommend Istanbul Passage to your friends? Why or why not?

    too hard too follow in an audio book, maybe it would've been better as a read


    What didn’t you like about Jefferson Mays’s performance?

    Too monotone.


    Was Istanbul Passage worth the listening time?

    It was last month's book club selection, or I wouldn't have finished it.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan Glenside, PA, United States 01-31-13
    Susan Glenside, PA, United States 01-31-13 Member Since 2014
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    "A twisty espionage tale of shifting allegiances."
    What made the experience of listening to Istanbul Passage the most enjoyable?

    Narrators various voices and accents. An atmosphere of postwar Turkey.


    If you’ve listened to books by Joseph Kanon before, how does this one compare?

    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.


    What does Jefferson Mays bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    His characterizations made the story come alive. I might not have finished the book if I was reading it.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Not possible.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sandy 01-21-13
    Sandy 01-21-13

    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.

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    "Loved the moodiness of Mays' interpretation."

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alain 08-13-12
    Alain 08-13-12 Member Since 2013
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    "Boring"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    .


    Would you ever listen to anything by Joseph Kanon again?

    Probably not


    Did Jefferson Mays do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    OK


    What character would you cut from Istanbul Passage?

    .


    Any additional comments?

    Not as good as Alan Furst, Martin Cruz Smith, or Eric Ambler. The story drags to a point that I switched to something else

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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