Excerpt from The Berlin Exchange by Joseph Kanon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Berlin Exchange

A Novel

by Joseph Kanon

The Berlin Exchange by Joseph Kanon X
The Berlin Exchange by Joseph Kanon
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 320 pages

    Mar 2023, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Amanda Ellison
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Print Excerpt

Berlin, 1963

The exchange, it was decided, would take place at the Invalidenstrasse checkpoint. The press kept an eye on Glienicke Bridge now, hoping for another Powers-Abel swap, and the international crossing at Checkpoint Charlie would be crowded, cars streaming out of the American sector on day visas. Invalidenstrasse had the virtue of being discreet, out of the way, designated for the few West Germans heading east. And it was in the British sector. This was officially a British exchange, Martin for an MI6 operative the East Germans had held for years and two English students caught helping friends over the wall. Small fry. For someone who'd made headlines. Well, years ago. How many of the young guards up ahead would even know who he was? All they'd see would be the prisoner skin, the unmistakable pallor of someone who'd been inside. There was a different light in prison, even in the exercise yard, the sun itself filtered, behind bars.

"We get out here," McGregor said, his escort since Heathrow, guiding him through customs at Tegel and across the British sector, staying close, as if he were afraid Martin would pick his moment and bolt. Where?

"We walk?"

"Just to the other side of the bridge," McGregor said, nodding to the checkpoint barrier up ahead. They had stopped on the western side of one of those canals that trickled out of the Spree. "The car needs to turn around here."

Martin got out, feeling the cold through his coat. There it was, the wall he'd seen in a thousand pictures, more brutal somehow in real life, a gray slab running along the water, broken here by a gap the width of a car. Some men were getting out of a black sedan on the other side.

"Right on time," McGregor said, checking his watch. "Germans."

A few minutes and he'd be free. Which wasn't how Digby, the junior warden who'd handled his release, had seen it. "You ask me, it's changing one prison for another. Different walls, that's all." But how could he know, someone who went home at night? "They're trying to get out over there, not in. You'll be getting parole soon. You'd have a choice. And who'd choose—?"

"I have a son there. A wife."

Digby looked at him, surprised. "A wife. Who never visits. Not as long as I've been here."


Digby took this in, then side-stepped. "Now, Moscow, that would be different. I mean, that's who you did it for. The spying. A hero's welcome there, wouldn't it be?"

Martin smiled a little. "Except they haven't asked for me. The East Germans have."

"And that's the wife asking, is that it?"

Martin ignored this. "I didn't do it for the Russians."

"No. Who, then?"

"I thought I was doing it for everybody."

Digby looked away, uncomfortable. "But that's not the way it worked out."


Digby handed over his personal papers, the American passport on top. "I still say, hold on to this. Ticket home. You never know."

Home. Where they'd executed the Rosenbergs. Getting caught in Britain had saved his life. Under British law, only high treason, working for the enemy in wartime, was a capital crime. They gave him the maximum sentence, fourteen years, but he was alive.

"They'll miss you at the library. You've done a nice job there."

"It passes the time."

"Well, that's what it's all about, isn't it?" Digby turned to go, then hesitated. "I wish you luck. I've enjoyed our chats."

Martin looked up, not expecting this. What had they talked about?

"You keep your cards close to your vest, though. A wife. First I've heard of it."

"Before your time."

"Still. You don't give up much."

"Less for you to pass along." To whom, Martin wondered. MI5? The head warden? Was anyone still interested?

"You think that?" Digby said, pretending to be offended. "Not very nice. But I suppose you have to think like that. In your line of work."

Excerpted from The Berlin Exchange by Joseph Kanon. Copyright © 2022 by Joseph Kanon. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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