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Istanbul Passage

3.59  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,771 Ratings  ·  636 Reviews
From the acclaimed, bestselling 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 post-war era.

A neutral capital straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul has spent the war as a magnet for refugees and

Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 16th 2013 by Washington Square Press (first published May 29th 2012)
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Hunt for Red October by Tom ClancyThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Best Spy Novels
215th out of 870 books — 1,530 voters
The Prodigal Spy by Joseph KanonThe Good German by Joseph KanonLos Alamos by Joseph KanonAlibi by Joseph KanonStardust by Joseph Kanon
Best of Joseph Kanon
6th out of 10 books — 2 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nov 13, 2012 Rhiannon rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was only ok. I was going on holiday to Istanbul and wanted something to read. I thought this would be perfect - a thriller le Carre style set in the very city I was visiting. Well, I enjoyed the referneces to the Hagia Sophia and the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, the crossing of the Golden Horn and the fishermen on the Galata Bridge. All that rang true.
I could not, however, get on board with Kanon's style of writing. It read like a movie script, or should I say, a wannabe movie script.
Peter Riva
Jul 17, 2012 Peter Riva rated it it was amazing
A book I was savoring... it's that good.
There are parallels to Graham Greene and John le Carre here... more of the former compared to the latter, with a bit of Jenkens thrown in. The fantastic never happens, the predictable occurs (and because this is a thriller you may hope it does not)- but the characters are so well rounded, so deeply camouflaged from themselves, as the Californians out there may say "conflicted," that all the story (and I mean all apart from solid history) is character drive
Cathi Davis
Jun 27, 2012 Cathi Davis rated it it was ok
A John LeCarre wanna be, but the character is not as complex as George Smiley. Not sure I even like the main character or his "love interest." The most compelling character is his brain addled wife, but, unfortunately she does little except provide a room for exposition. How could an accidental spy be so good at what is portrayed in other books as a craft? It kind of demeans the whole profession and makes it seem like any intelligent person could double deal, elude tails, create alibis, etc. I d ...more
Judith Starkston
Jun 21, 2012 Judith Starkston rated it really liked it
Hard to imagine any other setting for Kanon’s historical thriller, Istanbul Passage. Post World War II spy intrigues, war criminals seeking new friends, allegiances shifting yet again between America and Russia, battered Jews looking for refuge, illicit romance, the legacy of harems and the labyrinthine streets opening onto the wide waterway connecting two continents. Where better than Istanbul to depict the mire of ambiguous compromises, the sinuous balancing of countries against each other by ...more
Jun 29, 2013 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, mystery, thriller

All right, I'm officially a convert. This is my first experience of Joseph Kanon, and it was well worth it.

If you are going to write about the morally ambiguous world of spycraft but also give readers someone to root for, you need an author who can create characters who may never be what they seem, yet have some endearing qualities -- even if, as in one case in this novel, they happen to be a former Nazi-ally butcher of Jews.

The story revolves around Leon Bauer, an American businessman (tobacc
Mal Warwick
Jul 18, 2012 Mal Warwick rated it really liked it
Intrigue, Romance, and Betrayal in Post-World War II Istanbul

Some books build slowly, and just as you begin to wonder whether you have the energy to finish them, you discover you’re a captive and no longer able to put them aside. Then they build and build, until you find yourself on the last page, out of breath from the frenzied rush to the end. Istanbul Passage is one of those books.

Kanon, born in 1946, writes spy stories about the period immediately following World War II and before the Korean
Jul 09, 2012 DR rated it it was ok
Joseph Kanon has set several previous novels in mid- or late 1940s, which plays to one of his most tangible strengths--convincingly depicting a place and time almost frozen in amber. His plots also have picked up a fraught event in history (e.g., the Manhattan Project in LOS ALAMOS, post-war U.S. occupation in THE GOOD GERMAN and the growing anti-Communist hysteria in Hollywood in STARDUST) and put convincingly real characters, men and women, in motion in that specific and tense historical conte ...more
A man, filled with good intentions, is caught in the jaws of the competing and intersecting interests of global powers in Istanbul after World War II. Istanbul is the bridge between north and south in Europe, and between West and East. It has always been a place of great intrigue and mystery, filled with industrialists and spies. By setting his mystery here after the war, Kanon capitalizes on the reader’s sense of dislocation. We are familiar with the war, but we know little about what happened ...more
Nov 07, 2014 Alyce rated it it was ok
Despite the exquisite portraiture of post WWII Istanbul and a gripping plot, I found the terse dialogue distracting and insipid. Withholding information is a key component of an exciting mystery, but if you have to reread the dialogue just to determine who is talking, you've taken the conceit too far. The one, two, three, four and five word sentences made me feel as if I were reading a film noir script. Comparatively speaking, Kanon makes Dashiell Hammett look like Woody Allen.

Gregory Lamb
Jun 10, 2013 Gregory Lamb rated it liked it
The period and setting for this novel was captivating enough to keep me reading in spite of the novel's slow pace. Kanon's story takes place almost entirely in Istanbul with the exception of the few forays, the main character Leon Bauer makes aboard a fishing vessel and later aboard a transport ship carrying jewish refugees to Palestine.

Kanon's sense of place and knowledge of Istanbul, especially during those nostalgic years after WWII puts the reader in every passage. Though the story's pace wa
Feb 24, 2013 Eastbelt rated it liked it
I admire Kanon's novels; at his best as in "The Good German" he combines suspense, interesting characters and a great gift for background and setting. While "Istanbul Passage" is good at providing an interesting and unusual historical context (Istanbul in 1945, sending Jewish refugees to Palestine, and the start of the Cold War), this book gets off to a rather slow start, with a lot of meandering dialogue. A major problem with the book is its style - an excess of terse, clipped, narrative and di ...more
Mike Blick
Jul 18, 2012 Mike Blick rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book. It has a decent plot, and an interesting setting. I turned out to not be a fan of this writer's style. This book didn't flow for me, it was a chore to read.
Mar 06, 2012 Candace rated it really liked it
Just when you think you have heard every horror of World War II, Joseph Kanon tells you about Străuleşti. In earlier thrillers like “The Good German” and “Los Alamos” Kanon has gone to unexplored corners of the war experience and turned them into exceptionally atmospheric novels. “Istanbul Passage” covers the period right after the war when government intelligence networks were being dismantled, but new alliances were forming to smuggle Jews to Palestine and bring people with certain knowledge t ...more
Aug 26, 2012 David rated it really liked it
Really a fine novel here. And I love titles that have 2 (or in this case at least 3) different meanings. But, pay attention when reading! The thoughts expressed on the page shift from action to dialog to the protagonist's inner thoughts without warning and sometimes in the same paragraph ...

An analogy comes to mind that may help out this review - in all of the superhero (e.g. Spiderman) movies, I'm always most interested in the episodes where they first discover and experiment with their super p
Sep 10, 2014 Lily rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Mystery, Holocaust history, Istanbul fans
Recommended to Lily by: F2F book group
Shelves: kindle, book-club
Okay -- I must be on my one of my "softie" streaks -- two 4 star books within a few days.

But any book that compels me enough to read it in two days tends to beg for one more star than that three star midpoint. On that basis alone, Istanbul Passage is getting my nod.

I don't read this genre a lot -- mystery, crime, adventure -- not sure where the categorization pros slot this one. Thus, I'm not sure how well the writing stands up to those standards. I did find the phrases (versus sentences) discon
John Brooke
Mar 04, 2013 John Brooke rated it really liked it
If you like Alan Furst (and you should!) you will probably like this.

Author Joseph Kanon sets his story in Istanbul directly after WW2. Leon Bauer ostensibly works for an American tobacco company while doing clandestine early Cold War work for the US consulate and caring for his wife, a German Jew who has been traumatized by a disastrous experience working to move refugees through Turkey to Israel. This story revolves around a similar project, with Leon stuck in the middle of one, then two murde
Jun 23, 2014 Buchdoktor rated it really liked it
Im ersten Friedensjahr nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg ist Istanbul als neutrales Territorium und Verbindung zwischen Europa und Asien noch immer Zwischenstation für Flüchtlinge, Staatenlose, Agenten und Geschäftemacher aller Art. Die Botschaften der ehemaligen Kriegsgegner dienen als gesellschaftlich akzeptierte Fassade für allerlei konspirative Abläufe. Leon Bauer wickelt in der Rolle eines Tabakwarenhändlers gelegentlich sehr spezielle Geschäfte zwischen Ost und West ab. Überläufer und Informanten ...more
Paul Pessolano
Apr 20, 2012 Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it
“Istanbul Passage” by Joseph Kanon, published by Atria Books.

Category – Mystery/Thriller

If you are looking for a really, really good spy novel “Istanbul Passage” will satisfy all spy aficionados. There is no better place, today or back in the 1940’s, for a spy novel than Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus, one side Asia, the other side Europe. It has always been a hotbed for spies, Russian, American, British, and just about every other country. The Turks were, and still are very
Sam Reaves
Dec 02, 2015 Sam Reaves rated it it was amazing
Joseph Kanon has become one of my favorite writers since I discovered his stylish, character-driven historical espionage novels. His books are set in interesting places at a crucial time in history (the early days of the Cold War) and are complex interactions of character and situation, deftly plotted and skillfully written.
This one takes place in Istanbul just after the Second World War, the great sorting out getting underway, with Zionists working hard to get Holocaust survivors to Palestine,
Sep 01, 2012 Gerald rated it it was amazing
Masterfully plotted, a real cork-screw. And set in one of the most fascinating cities on the planet. Thematically deep, with an added patina of moral murkiness painted over a flimsy network of complicated spy-thriller betrayals. The prose a bit too plain for my taste, but that's a quibble. Kanon is a Graham Greene for the American empire.
Susan Springer
Feb 15, 2013 Susan Springer rated it really liked it
Kanon's writing is exceptional: the story is cleverly driven through dialogue and leaves the reader questioning up to the last page. His descriptions of Istanbul confirm my excitement for seeing it all in August.
Aug 12, 2015 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Shelves: thriller
This is a spy novel in the mold of John le Carre--weariness and horror slowly leaching out the fun of spycraft. The author, however cynical about the ability for espionage to actually improve the world or even really advance any nation's best interests, still finds it addictive. It's deeply intricate. Everyone has hidden motives, double and triple crosses everyone else, and is still not entirely sure what happened by the end. I'll warn you right off the bat--this is not a Tom Clancy novel. In th ...more
One sign of a good book is when you keep thinking about it when you're not reading it. That's what I did with this book. It stuck with me throughout the days I was listening to the very well narrated audio version of the story.
Kanon excels at the period immediately after World War II, in Germany (The Good German, in Italy Alibi, and now Istanbul. The war is over. The spies and agents for all sides are trying to figure out what comes next. Some are trying to get the Jews who survived the death c
Steve Greenleaf
Apr 08, 2014 Steve Greenleaf rated it liked it
Shelves: espionage
Author Joseph Kanon’s Istanbul Passage is a fine thriller, full of the intrigue of espionage and the attendant moral quandaries that the best writers in the field, Greene, Ambler, and Le Carre, do so well. Set in post-WWII Istanbul, the Second World War has only recently ended, but already the intrigues of the Cold War have commenced. Germany and Eastern Europe have unearthed not only Jewish refugees hoping for a secure future by passing to Palestine (then a British protectorate), but also war c ...more
Victor Carson
I picked up a copy of Istanbul Passage during an Amazon Kindle sale and held the copy for awhile, to read as a mental release after finishing a more challenging literary novel. I liked the setting, in Istanbul in late 1945, just after the end of World War II in Europe, while Jewish survivors of the death camps in Romania, Poland, and Germany tried to reach Palestine, through British blockades. I saw that this novel was fairly new but that the author, Joseph Kanon, had written several other espio ...more
Rob Kitchin
Oct 08, 2012 Rob Kitchin rated it it was amazing
In Istanbul Passage Kanon envelopes the reader in the city in the immediate post-war era - a city on the fulcrum between East and West in a country seeking to remain somewhat neutral in the coming cold war. Kanon expertly recreates its cultural landscape and sense of place - the melting pot of sights and sounds; the busy waterways and markets; the contrasts between rich and poor; and the political and diplomatic haunts of consulates, hotels and private parties. The characterisation is keenly obs ...more
Agnes Benis
Jul 23, 2012 Agnes Benis rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David Madden
Jan 12, 2013 David Madden rated it really liked it
Obviously, Joseph Kanon so loves Istanbul that he could not resist moving his protagonist back and forth all over the city. Everyone who goes there loves that city. For anyone who has not yet gone there, Kanon’s love will set you down walking on Galata Bridge, breathing the air sweeping over the Golden Horn from the Bosphorus strait. Inside, front and back, a very effective two-page map shows where we are. Never mind that the time frame is wartime early 1940’s.

But Istanbul Passage is less a tra
May 27, 2012 Carla rated it really liked it
Fast-paced and involving, Istanbul Passage gives an "insiders view" of life at the end of World War II as seen thru the eyes of Leon Bauer, and American living in Turkey who is thrust into a dangerous and complicated web of deceit that his job as a "part time" spy has not prepared him for. Used to "routine" assignments-helping to transport refugees from Nazi occupied countries-Leon learns in a split second that even his closest friends are not who they seem to be, and then tries to navigate a wo ...more
Jun 12, 2012 Nan rated it really liked it
American Leon Bauer is mourning his mad wife and the end of the war as he goes about his daily business as a tobacco rep in Istanbul in 1945. He's agreed to perform one more covert errand for a friend in the American consulate--these harmless missions help Leon feel involved in the war effort (he failed the physical to actually serve). When this last one goes wrong and he ends up killing the agent who hired him, he's launched on a roller-coaster of choices that must be made in an environment of ...more
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Book Club: * Final Comments on Istanbul Passage and April Business 1 11 Apr 24, 2013 11:39AM  
The Book Club: * Istanbul Passage 5 10 Apr 18, 2013 08:51PM  
The Book Club: Chapter 1: Bebek (3 - 63) 20 7 Apr 16, 2013 09:07AM  
The Book Club: Chapter 6: Büyükada (283 - 341) 5 3 Mar 30, 2013 09:08AM  
The Book Club: Chapter 5: Üsküdar (225 -279) 2 2 Mar 30, 2013 08:35AM  
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“You know the sultans used to light their garden parties with turtles? They'd put candles on their backs and let them wander around. Hundreds of them.” 5 likes
“Life is like that, don’t you think? Mostly bad choices. All you can do is keep your balance between them.” 1 likes
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