A wonderfully complex story of love, deception and intrigue in postwar Berlin, where a famous German writer reluctantly returns home to work in secret for the American government.
Kanon's depiction of the German capital is, understandably, in stark contrast to other historical fiction taking place in the thirties during the rise of fascism. In 1945, Berlin is a city of rubble: burnt out buildings and bombed out cafés, even the glamorous Adlon Hotel struggles through its forced austerity. The atmosphere is vivid, if dreadfully bleak, and the mood is very much one of citizens making the best of their situations. The atrocities endured by women during the period effectively strip the reader of any rose-coloured nostalgia regarding the era.
Kanon's writing style can take some getting used to: at first, seemingly stilted with its own awkward rhythm, but once you get a feel for it, the technique works wonders, allowing the reader to understand the characters and their emotions almost through a stream of consciousness. There's some great, snappy dialogue - an area where Kanon regularly excels - and it takes place all over Berlin: tense conversations in the thick fog; during car chases; amidst passionate love affairs; while dumping bodies into the Spree river.
It's difficult, at times, to keep track of who's who at the Kulturbund, but the uncertainty makes perfect sense - while citizens struggle to piece their lives back together after the war, the city is caught between East and West, and increasingly entangled in the politics and divided allegiances of the nascent Cold War. With an appropriately satisfying conclusion, Kanon reminds the reader to continually question who, if anyone, you can truly trust among the ruins of war-torn Berlin.
4.2 / 5.0