From the book jacket: September 1989. The
Communist government in East Germany is on the
brink, desperately clinging to power through the
iron grip of the Stasi. One of the most
formidable intelligence services the world has
ever seen, the Stasi has one informer for every
seven residents of East Germany, plus countless
armed guards, special jails, and nightmarish
interrogation centers. But even the Stasi cant
stop the rebellion that ends in the fall of the
Berlin Wall. It is in these last few frenzied
weeks that Brandenburg Gate is set.
Dr. Rudi Rosenharte, formerly a Stasi foreign agent, now an art scholar living in Dresden, is sent to Trieste to rendezvous with his old lover, Annalise Schering. The problem: Rudi knows shes dead. He saw her lying in her own bloodied bathwater, and then kept her suicide a secret. The Stasi believe Annalise is returning to the fold with vital intelligence. To make sure Rosenharte plays the game while in Italy, they have imprisoned his family. But the Stasi is not the only intelligence agency using Rosenharte. Soon the British and the Americans encircle him, forcing him to choose to either abandon his beloved brother to a torturous death or return to East Germany as a double agent.
Comment: Henry Porter is the British editor of Vanity Fair and has written for most of the 'serious' British newspapers, including The Guardian, The Observer, Evening Standard, and The Sunday Telegraph.
His first novel, Remembrance Day, was published in 1999; this was followed by A Spy's Life in 2001 (featuring Robert Harland, a former M16 agent who is now a water specialist for the United Nations). Then followed Empire State (2003), also featuring Robert Harland; and now Brandenburg Gate (hardcover 2005), in which Harland plays a role (as chief of Berlin station and Rudi Rosenharte's MI6 controller) but is not center stage.
Set in East Germany in the winter of 1989, Brandenburg Gate brings alive the days leading up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall - an event that might seem inevitable now, but was far from foregone at the time. After all, look what had happened in Tiananmen Square just a few months before!
This is a first-rate thriller, comparable to the best of Le Carré or Littell. Porter juggles a complex plot and a large cast of well-developed characters with aplomb, but it is his depiction of the dying days of East Germany, and the massive reach of the secret police required to maintain a country set to implode, that raises Brandenburg Gate above the level of mere entertainment.
This review was originally published in May 2006, and has been updated for the April 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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