Leaving Berlin Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 78 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Leaving Berlin.
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Leaving Berlin Summary & Study Guide Description

Leaving Berlin Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Kanon, Joseph. Leaving Berlin. Atria Books, 2015.

After the end of World War II, Berlin stands as a defiant, blockaded city, destroyed by bombings and barely surviving. Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer, fled the Nazis for America before the war. However, the politics of his youth have made him an enemy of the anti-Communism wave in America. Facing deportation and the loss of his family, Alex makes a deal with the CIA to earn his way back to the United States by acting as a spy in Berlin.

As soon as Alex returns to Berlin, he is struck by the destruction present across all corners of the city, including his own childhood home. He adjusts to his housing arrangements before being summoned to the Kulturbund, the collection of artists returning to Germany after the war. While he adapts to life back in Germany, Alex remembers his various connections, especially those to the von Bernuth family - Irene in particular - his childhood love.

The entire novel takes place with the underlying plot of art's return to the city, including a play by the world-renowned Brecht. When Alex embarks on the first part of his mission, he is cornered and must commit murder, the first time he has ever even shot a gun, changing his experience for the rest of the novel. Following this episode, Alex must return to his hotel and comport himself normally, a true challenge.

Alex is continually required to be present at Kulturbund meetings and events, becoming close to a number of people in the organization, while also trying to conceal his true motives. He encounters Markus Engel, an agent in the German intelligence organization who continues to pursue him, making Alex nervous.

The first time that Alex encounters Irene in over a decade he remembers immediately how much he loved her. However, their reunion is slightly soured by the fact that Alex has instructions to spy on Irene and her lover, Alexander Markovsky, a high-ranking Russian officer in charge of mining work camps for German prisoners of war. Irene's brother, Erich, is one of these Nazi prisoners who escapes from the work camps, seeking aid. Alex agrees to take him in, adding another layer of complication to his mission. Alex secures medical help for Erich from Gustav, Elsbeth von Bernuth's husband, however, reluctantly.

When Alex and Irene continue getting closer as Alex gathers information, Markovsky begins to grow suspicious of her when he realizes that her brother was one of the escapees. When he comes to her apartment to question her, he and Alex get into an argument and Markovsky is killed. Alex and Irene make the decision to throw his body into the river underneath the bridge, as they are the only witnesses to the crime.

After the crime, Alex and Irene are on alert, attempting to conceal his disappearance from the Russians. Additionally, when Markus begins investigating, Alex agrees to become his informant to hopefully keep Markus off of Alex's scent. At this point in the novel, Alex is an American agent, reporting to Campbell, and a German informant, reporting to Markus.

While the novel progresses, Alex is also working on an escape plan for Erich to fly out of East Berlin after completing a tell-all radio interview about his time in the prison camp. He expands this plan to allow Irene to leave the city as well, although she is more reluctant. When the time comes for the premiere of Brecht's play, Alex knows this will be the night he smuggles the two out of the country. When they leave in the middle of the play to go to the studio to record Erich's interview, Alex believes he has not been followed. However, they encounter trouble when leaving the studio, resulting in a car chase and more deaths. Erich manages to get into the plane and escape Berlin.

As a result of the car chase, Irene must stay in the hospital while Alex attempts to tie up loose ends. He also decides to record his own interview tape, knowing that the time has come for him to leave Berlin as well. He discovers that Campbell has been double-crossing him and working with the Russians, leading him to hunt down Campbell while pretending he does not know anything about his motivations. Markus agrees to help Alex after he threatens him into working with the Americans as well. Markus and Alex fight with Campbell, Alex ultimately shooting and killing Campbell. After this, Alex must go back to the hospital for Irene where he tells her that he is leaving Berlin to return to his family in the United States.

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