Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon. Simon & Schuster.
Istanbul in World War II? Whose side were they on? Allies or Axis? No peeking!
I’ll admit, until I picked up Kanon’s post WWII novel I didn’t know either. As a city straddling two continents with competing histories from the East and West, no surprise they were neutral.
Their geography also made it not surprising that they were a shipping and smuggling center for both sides. I was surprised to learn that for much of WWII they were the safest transfer link in smuggling Jews from Europe to Palestine.
Leon, an ex-pat American businessman – he buys Turkish tobacco – has run low level operations – errands might be the better word for it – for the Americans and Allies. With Germany’s surrender, he is asked to take on one more assignment. The more he is told how simple and safe it will be, the more he knows something big is afoot. He just needs to meet a small boat at the docks, take the passenger to a safe house, ask no questions, and deliver him to an airfield a few days later.
He escapes an ambush with the passenger alive – and quickly learns that the world political conflict has shifted between the US and Soviet Union. He has no one to trust – and both of the superpowers, along with his Turkish hosts suspect he knows more than he is letting on.
Leon visits his Jewish wife – who is tucked in a sanatorium – every day – she hasn’t spoken since a ship with children she was trying to save was sunk. Will he find answers in the silence?
Kanon is a great wordsmith – his almost drawl understated style ratchets up the internal highly reflective conflict of sorting through the shifting sands of friends and enemies on personal – and geopolitical – levels.