Day 115-- The Good German, scattered thoughts

I have a tendency to read books before their film adaptations come out and never actually go see the movie; I might do that in this case, since I've read the film changes a ton of things I liked from the book and since it, like, is supposed to be crap too.

But the Good German surprised me in several ways: 1) it wasn't as good a novel as I was led to believe, 2) it was surprisingly realistic and worthwhile in a few key areas that are rarely, rarely done well in novels. The book takes place after the fall of Berlin in 1945. With the second World War finished in Europe, the ravaged city is split amongst the Allied countries. The Russians start to rub the rest of the victors the wrong way, and thousands of now poor and homeless German citizens watch their lives crumble amidst peace treaties and restructuring programs.

The protagonist is Jake Geismar, an American journalist who used to live in Berlin prior to Germany's invasion of Poland. He returns to the city with scores of other reporters and writers, his magazine assignment a nice excuse for his real motivation: to find the married German woman with whom he had an affair before the war.

Jake stumbles onto the murder of an American soldier that no one seems to want to investigate, which ends up complicating things. Not to mention the fact that his lover's husband--an infantile, cold mathematician--may still be alive, and the target of multiple secret service communities. Intrigue!

The book sets the scene very, very well. Kanon paints a ruined Berlin with delicate, fine details, adding believable emotions and intrigue in the pre-Cold War mix. The initial momentum is even maintained despite an uncomfortably graphic sex scene that feels more like a medical research essay than sensual sidestep. But the book falters when it keeps going, going, going, even when the plot should've wrapped up pages ago. And the mystery at the core becomes unnecessarily convoluted at the end.

But the good points are amazing: the dialogue (for the most) part is superb and sounds like it's coming from real people, not existing just to move the plot along; the details and minor characters are so well fleshed out that it's a joy seeing them appear, regardless of their moral fiber; and the moral quandaries and questions at the core of the novel are so complex and, well, real that it was hard to believe that this was fiction. The two main characters are in love, for instance, but there's an unvoiced opinion that they're both selfish, flawed people in many ways that can and probably will eventually ruin their relationship. Questions are also raised about moral responsibility, especially referencing the title: is knowing about evil and feeling helpless to stop it the same as committing evil yourself? This is definitely a book that can lead to tons of discussion. The complexities of the issues and themes really took me by surprise, in a good way.

Overall, it was very flawed, but I did enjoy reading the Good German. I'd like to check out some of Kanon's other stuff, since he's definitely gifted in writing deep WWII-era spy/thriller material. He may not actually be the next Graham Greene, as some of the promotional material seems to suggest, but he's still someone I want to check out again.


This beer is so bad that it's even worse.


My parents visited me today and brought me a wonderful gift (besides a big hug): a bag of romaine and lollo rosso lettuce. Eating a big bowl of lush, non-iceberg salad has been one of the best experiences of living on my own! (I'm a big salad fan, if you couldn't tell.)


Dutch Blitz is easily one of the most fun games ever. Come by the coffee shop sometime and join in a round or two (provided that I'm not working, of course--or if, OK, nevermind).


And speaking of board games, I really want to get these two. I never played many board games growing up, since my family never really gave much thought or time to it. I am a very board game-oriented person, though, so I've had this desire to play awesome board games welled up inside of me for over a decade. I'm ready to burst, people. We don't want that. Not all of us at least.


"Wherever you're from, one of the least attractive traits a person can have is disavowing where they come from."
-Craig Finn (singer/guitarist/songwriter, the Hold Steady)

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 12/30/2006 12:00:00 AM,


At 10:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So are you going to see the movie?
Speaking of movies, do you want to be in one that I am making for next semester? Most of the movie will be filmed in a coffee shop and I think it would be cool if you would be part of it.



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