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Istanbul Passage

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  5,140 ratings  ·  773 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

Hardcover, 404 pages
Published May 29th 2012 by Atria Books
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3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,140 ratings  ·  773 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thriller, spies, turkey
”You’re so sure somebody’s watching.”

“It’s Istanbul.”

The curtains twitch.
The doorways have eyes.

Nothing happens in Istanbul without someone seeing it. Anything clandestine has to be hidden behind layers of misdirection. There are eyes everywhere in a city of people who know the value of information. World War II has recently ended, but the next war, the Cold War, is already beginning in Istanbul. The Americans, the British, the Israelis, and the Russians are all vying for the last remaining val
Peter Riva
Jun 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 13, 2012 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.
Cathi Davis
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
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
Diane S ☔
Apr 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Istanbul, after the war, trying to remain a neutral territory becomes a hotbed of rumor and intelligence, filled with various countries agents and spies. Jews are still trying to find a safe haven and escape from the racial bias that has followed them, even into this country. Into this climate of tension and paranoia comes an ordinary man, Leon, who is asked to rise above his comfort level and perform a job. What a horrible mess he soon finds himself involved in, because he is actually trapped i ...more
Timothy Smith
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm working on my own new novel set in Istanbul, also a thriller, so I am reading other books set there. I was glad to learn about Joseph Kanon's Istanbul Passage. He really captures the place, almost everyone has said. But more than that, his writing is smart, and engaging without being so action-driven that it becomes predictable. This book is not predictable. I wasn't sure until the last paragraph or two what would be the protagonist's decision. Without any spoiler, I can say that the scene w ...more
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller, fiction, mystery

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
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
Mal Warwick
Jul 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Korea
Sep 16, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.

May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a typical spy story. The author teases us into the tempo of a Bolero Dance with ever so subtle observations, actions, thoughts in short sentences, brief phrases...slide-stepping smoothly over the scape of Istanbul after WWII - until the finale where our dancers collapse.
So many dance partners (opposing government agencies) with conflicting purposes disrupts the harmony frequently, adding clashes of conflict and missteps. There will be more than one gunshot.

American Leon Bauer, tobac
MisterLiberry Head
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
Mike Blick
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Gregory Lamb
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
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
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mystery, Holocaust history, Istanbul fans
Recommended to Lily by: F2F book group
Shelves: book-club, kindle
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
A couple of the reviews cited on the back cover of this novel compare Joseph Kanon's work to the writings of Graham Greene. I've come across such comments before but, having read his Los Alamos (which I liked), Alibi (which I loved) and Stardust (of which I had the highest of expectations but which, alas, disappointed me), have always taken them with a pinch of salt. Now, having read, Istanbul Passage, I quite understand the comparisons' point. There's also some Eric Ambler here, while the tale ...more
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Margaret Bamford
I foung this book hard going and I felt very little for the characters. I liked the desciptions of the buildings and markets.
Paul Pessolano
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“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
Colleen Clark
A gripping story. I could hardly stand to read the last chapter so uncertain was I how it was going to turn out and who would survive and who were the good guys and who the bad ones....And even so, it wasn't clear in the end.

I picked it up in the first place because the title with the 'I' in Istanbul dotted, as it is in Turkish, and the evocative cover photo by the famous Turkish photographer Ara Guler just made it irresistible to someone who lived in Turkey - not in Istanbul - in the 1960's.

Description: A neutral capital straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul survived the Second World War as a magnet for refugees and spies, trafficking in secrets and lies rather than soldiers. Expatriate American businessman Leon Bauer was drawn into this shadow world, doing undercover odd jobs and courier runs in support of the Allied war effort.

Now, as the espionage community begins to pack up and an apprehensive city prepares for the grim realities of postwar life, Leon is given one last routine a
Jun 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed my first attempt at the work of Joseph Kanon. It was an excellent post-WWII spy novel. The setting was Istanbul and appropriately exotic. The city becomes another character in this story. The main character, Leon Bauer, is an American exporter, working for Reynolds Cigarettes. He also gets involved occasionally working for the local American spy guy, Tommy. His last mission goes awry, to help smuggle a potential war criminal into the city and pass him to the Americans. His handler is k ...more
Sam Reaves
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really good espionage story set in a city I love and a time period I didn't know anything about (1945 Istanbul and Turkey's role in WWII). My only hang-up was the clipped, almost staccato dialogue - and there is much more dialogue than description in this book, so it was a lot to contend with. The terse sentences did contribute to the fast pace of the book though, and I was totally hooked. Definitely recommend if you liked The Good German or any Le Carre.
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Play Book Tag: Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon - 4 stars 6 20 Aug 14, 2018 04:50AM  
The Book Club: * Final Comments on Istanbul Passage and April Business 1 12 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  

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