Does war ever end? Or does it continue even after all the guns have been silenced and the world slides into a more formal way of resolving conflicts. In The Good German, Jake Geismar comes home to Germany after fleeing it before the Nazi takeover. Despite the surrender of the Nazis, the war doesn’t seem to end but instead takes on a darker and more nefarious form.
Jake Geismar steps on to the tarmac of the Tempelhof, it is his first time back in Berlin since he left. The Berlin he remembers feels familiar to him, the streets and the apartment buildings bring out a lot of memories. But the deep scars inflicted by the war have also made the city alien and hostile. As he moves from one place to another, Jake reconnects with old friends and meets new acquaintances. Post-war life goes on for the victors, everyone is happy while Berliners and Germans struggle to make meaning out of their deeply scarred and cratered lives. In the midst of all the glory and celebration, a mysterious death leads Jake Geismar to a bigger conspiracy not found on the negotiation tables of the allies. The Good German now leads to a darker alley where honor and duty walk hand in hand with the holocaust and its up to Geismar to make sense out of all the politics, the espionage, and the intrigue.
Joseph Kanon’s novel brings out a lot of intrigue but in order for that to happen he has to add in a lot of fillers and subplots along the way. The novel crescendoes at different parts and suddenly falls into a denouement leading readers to another subplot taking about 10 or more pages. While it starts with a lot of vivid descriptions of a bombed out Berlin and the sudden murder of a no one, the story quickly unravels and at some point decides to stop and hold off on the mystery. The subplots begin taking center stage and at one point I started wondering whether the novel was about rekindling love after the war or finding a murderer and solving a mystery. Then the novel gets back on track and for a little while the plot starts moving until another subplot gets thrown in and everything is once again sidetracked. Joseph Kanon absolutely loves these little curve balls but at some point, I was itching to find out not because it was exciting but more of wanting to read the end.
Despite the novels weak plot structure, Joseph Kanon really brings out a very challenging question of whether the actions, good or bad, could be rationalized and defended. The way Kanon’s characters react and defend to their actions was intriguing. For the Germans it was always the same answer “we were forced” and for the Americans “we are fighting for independence”. Given the news about the former Auschwitz guard on trial, reading Joseph Kanon made the argument of German actions relevant once more.
The Good German is available in bookdepository.com