Review: Joseph Kanon’s ISTANBUL PASSAGE

From the beginning we’re in Istanbul so the “passage”  is also a journey into the nature of morality, immorality, the ethical and the unethical  as Leon Bauer, tobacco executive, is drawn into pre-Cold War connivance in the narrow, ancient streets and alleys of a city losing the excitement and adventure of the bleak  world of quasi-espionage.  Leon Bauer wanted to contribute to the war effort but his contribution lies in the past when he and his wife, Anna, now in a quasi-coma, ran Jews into Palestine. Leon wants a cause and a woman. He’s also a pawn of agencies who take advantage of him.  He’s the perfect candidate when the professionals need an outsider to perform nefarious deeds.  Ultimately his experience tests his own ethical code of  loyalty to a man who has trusted him.  Can one do bad things in the service of good things? He loves Istanbul, its beauty and charm as he loves the same in Kay, his mistress.  She is gullible but not as innocent as she first appears.

Melnikov, the Russian, is despicable, but still just doing his job.  Jianu, the Rumanian?  Well, he may have been a good man, but he may also have been the Butcher of Jews.  Everyone in this novel has secrets.

In the telling Kanon portrays a Turkey that was once an Empire, but has learned to survive the Nazi’s and the bear.  It also needs America to defend it.  Everyone, individual and nation needs a cover and the Turkish security agency knows it.

David Milliken




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