We apologize for recent glitches in the blog timing. We were experimenting with presetting, and it’s not been going well. We’re going back to manual settings and will be good for Monday, Wednesday and Friday regular blogs henceforth. Technology wins again…. :] and now, Jack’s review of ISTANBUL PASSAGE
I’m a sucker for spy novels, and Wendy and I recently spent two weeks in Istanbul, so this screamed at me when it came into the shop.
I wasn’t disappointed!
Karon is often compared to Le Carre and Greene and my first observation to Wendy was “this is a cross between ‘The Third Man’ and ‘Smiley’s People’”.
The plot is both dense and enthralling – I was continually sucked in and drawn along. To begin with I was confused (actually, after finishing the book I had to go back and re-read the first few chapters). Wendy and I had not only visited Istanbul, but also Romania (not to mention Rumania and Roumania), so all the settings meant a great deal to me. Did being familiar with the places make the book more meaningful? I really don’t know!
Having said that, I definitely got an extra jolt from knowing the settings of the story.
Briefly this is a tale set in Istanbul just after the 2nd World War and as the Cold War is getting going. I had either forgotten or never realized that Turkey was neutral during that war. It was, therefore, one of those strange places like Switzerland and Portugal where the spies, diplomats or black-marketeers could mingle and play out their dramas. One of the main characters is an American businessman who’s become a ‘semi-detached’ spy and another is a Romanian double-agent. In the end the story ends up being about their relationship as much as anything else.
The descriptions of Istanbul rang very true. The book is set in 1946, but all the descriptions of streets and landmarks are just familiar enough to take me back there. Not just that, but the atmosphere as well!
When Wendy and I were flying home from Istanbul after our 15th anniversary vacation last year, one of the movies on the plane was the latest James Bond, which started with a scene in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar – we’d just been there and one of the settings in Karon’s book is also there. Not just that, but Wendy had almost been pick-pocketed there as well.
In the end the book is about choices. Who you owe most to and where your loyalties lie.
There’s an interesting interview with Karon at the end of the edition we have where he says that the best spy novels are not about spying but more about moral dilemmas. I wonder whether all the best books, no matter what the genre, are about those?