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Istanbul Passage: A Novel Hardcover – May 29, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 434 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A fast-moving, thinking man’s thriller. . . tense and atmospheric [with] sinister intrigue.” (The Wall Street Journal)

"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." (Chris Pavone, New York Times bestselling author of The Expats, in Publishers Weekly)

"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 bestselling author of The Tourist)

"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 (Starred Review)

“A masterful work that is as gripping as it is intelligent.” (The Daily Beast)

“Kanon delivers a satisfying atmospheric thriller.” (Entertainment Weekly)

"Superbly crafted… A beautifully conceived and atmospheric thriller; highly recommended." (Library Journal (Starred Review))

"Reminiscent of the works of Graham Greene." (Alexander McCall Smith)

About the Author

Joseph Kanon is the author of five other novels, Los Alamos, The Prodigal Spy, The Good German, Alibi, and Stardust. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a book publishing executive. He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; First Edition edition (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781439156414
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439156414
  • ASIN: 1439156417
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (434 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jesse Kornbluth on May 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A brilliant editor told me that the best time to start reporting a big story is after everyone else is finished. The parade of media leaves town, and the people you want to talk to have plenty of time. With nothing much at stake, you get the real story.

I'm guessing that was one of the attractions of Istanbul, circa late 1945, for Joseph Kanon. The war was over, the big league spies had departed, and the only sustained action was the effort to smuggle European Jews into Palestine. A visitor could almost buy the fantasy: "In Istanbul's dream of itself it was always summer, ladies eating sherbets in garden pavilions, caiques floating by. The city shivered through winters with braziers and sweaters, somehow surprised that it had turned cold at all."

"Istanbul Passage" is billed as a thriller, in the way that the novels of Graham Greene and Alan Furst are thrillers. That is, there are guns, and they are used. But the book is also about values and codes and honor, the kind of big questions that get asked in great movies like "Casablanca" and aren't asked nearly enough in contemporary stories.

For Leon Bauer, an American vaguely involved in the tobacco trade but also an occasional tool of the American consulate's less diplomatic activities, it comes down to this: "What do you do when there's no right thing to do. Just the wrong thing. Either way."

That question makes the book's title a pun. The "passage" isn't just about Jews or, more urgently, a former Nazi collaborator who is being smuggled through Istanbul on his way to a debriefing in Washington. It's equally about Leon Bauer's moral passage. As in: You give your word to perform a service. Along the way, you learn a few things, none of them savory. Do you walk? Is your word your bond?
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Joseph Kanon is the author of six novels including, Los Alamos, which won the Edgar Award for best first novel; The Good German, which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett; The Prodigal Spy and Alibi, which earned Kanon the Hammett Award of the International Association of Crime Writers;and Istanbul Passage, his latest novel. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a book publishing executive. Kanon was last reported to live in New York City with his wife, literary agent Robin Straus, and their two sons.

It was the end of World War II. The Americans and the Russians are vying for dominance in what will become known later as the "Cold War" an era of mistrust; the war is over, everyone is packing up to leave Istanbul. The American's clandestine operation was conducted from the American Consul. It was engaged in disrupting German war supply efforts through the guise of operatives in legitimate businesses like R.J. Reynolds, Commercial Corp and Western Electric. There were others too, humanitarians, passionate for the repatriation of the Jewish refugees with Palestine; clandestine operations that provided illegal passage for them through sea ports on the Bosporus. As the story opens, Leon Bauer and his friend Mihai are proceeding to the sea port for a clandestine pickup of a German. It was arranged by Leon's friend and sometime employer, Tommy, who worked at the American Consul. It was a simple job, pick the German up whisk him away to a safe place and protect him until he is transported out of Turkey by the Americans. That was the plan but not everyone saw the same ending. Leon intercepts the German at the landing; suddenly gun fire erupts, the fire is returned and a dead man is left by the road side above.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joseph Kanon's "Istanbul Passage" is a terrific book, 5 stars. It's filled with characters who will stay with you for a long time, an interesting story that slowly pulls you in and becomes more and more complex, excellently interwoven sub-plots that greatly enrich the main story, and tons and tons of atmosphere. And romance and sex.

It's in the early days of post-WWll and Leon, an American "businessman" is asked by his local Consulate boss to meet an unidentified man arriving late at night via fishing boat. And a simple pick-up is suddenly not so simple. Now there's a dead body, and the police are asking embarrassing questions. As is the national security agency, Emniyet. And there are the Russians. And before long you realize you are reading a winner.

Leon has his personal problems as well. His beloved wife is convalescing in a local clinic and has not been responsive for months. He secretly meets with Marina every Thursday afternoon, and then there's Kay, wife of his new boss.

Leon knows Istanbul, its history, landmarks and alleys. And he is very resourceful. So while he is not a full-time agent, much less a spy, he soon is engaged with a couple of them, and learns quickly. But what he is not prepared for are the choices, particularly when all the options are bad ones.

I have read a lot of spy fiction over the years and I haven't read anything better than "Istanbul Passage" since Le Carre's stuff in the early and mid 60's. Enjoy !
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Format: Hardcover
There was a couple of references to Graham Greene, and the NYT Book Review threw in Le Carre & Orwell to boot. A trifecta I had to place a bet on. I read it. The hype lived up to the ink being splashed around.
I liked the Hitchcockian plot flavor of the normal man being placed in the arena of unconscionable players/in a deadly game of deception upon deception.
The setting is very realistic, as is the time frame. A perfect background upon which to cast the reader into the depths of rights & wrongs, where they meet in grey uncertainties & no-win scenarios. Then mix in, with these textures of grim realities: the torrid zones of lovers, the extermination camps, the fall-to-your-knees horrors of war, the gordian knots of deception, plus the humanity of the writer spinning this yarn; and you have a novel well-worth worth your time.
But back to the references to Greene and other authors; these authors have been in the very crucibles they tell of so knowingly about - and Joseph Kanon is one as well. There is no substitute for experience. It comes off the page and stops the reader cold, to savor the moment/suposedly imagined, but quite genuine. It pulls one aside to contemplate. To think. To ponder.
The Alexei character really drew me in. Though all the major characters are complex and finely drawn, it was this so-called bad guy, Alexie, that had me turning the pages. I say so-called bad guy, because war spawns many variations of itself. Whose to say, that even with the bad choices some made, there were worse choices, that they could or would not breach?

Great intrique & great heart.
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