Joseph Kanon's most recent novel, "Leaving Berlin," follows a German-Jewish writer with Communist ties and no other choice but to return to Berlin after living in America. Kanon will read on March 12 at an installment of the Thurber House Evenings with Authors series.
Joseph Kanon has written seven novels, each with a different post-war setting. His most recent, "Leaving Berlin," released this month, follows a German-Jewish writer with Communist ties and no other choice but to return to Berlin after living in America. Kanon will read on March 12 at an installment of the Thurber House Evenings with Authors series. thurberhouse.org
All your books are set between 1945 and 1950. What draws you to this period? My first book, "Los Alamos," was about the making of the atomic bomb in 1945. The more I was researching, the more that immediate post-war period seemed so fascinating. It's the hinge moment in the century. There are ordinary people, just like you or me, making decisions that are going to have repercussions for 50 years or more. The war itself is the event of the 21st century. But it doesn't just end. What happens to the people after? There are just so many stories that come out of it.
"Leaving Berlin" is largely about art and culture after the war. It interested me that culture was a battlefront, too. One of my books is called "Stardust," which takes place in Hollywood during the war. A number of German exiles moved to Los Angeles to work. And they were greatly ignored. After the war, then they went back to Germany. I wanted to know what that was like.
You've been compared to Graham Greene. Like Greene's books, your work has an exotic but informative and very truthful feeling to it. I admire Greene very much, and I've certainly read all his stuff. If you're going to be compared to anyone, that's a really good one. I don't write just thrillers; they're novels about moral questions and the decisions people make. I think that's what novels are meant to be about. How do we want to live? What do we want to do? I want [my books] to be entertaining, but I want to make the reader think about those things.