Welcome to the

Random words, pictures and thoughts of one who always wishes to be on the mind's road to discovery!

About Me

My photo
Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Did Constantiople Get the Works? It's Nobody's Business But the Turks! And This Book Explains It All

Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern IstanbulMidnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul by Charles King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book arrived almost a year ago from Goodreads. I was so excited to receive it because my Father had told me so many tales about his Mediterranean cruise and arrival in Istanbul in the early 20's. The place sounded so exotic with its street vendors all speaking different hand vying for the sailors' American dollars and hassling with them over prices. The music that poured from many places on intruments unfamiliar to the West. The whirling dervish Sufi's in the square in front of the magnificent and indescribable Hagia Sofia--where one had to remove ones shoes before entering. The baggy pants and fez on the men and the body covering garments of the women. It all sounded so exciting and mysterious to the pre-teen girl who listened as he showed me faded black and white pictures that I still have, even more faded than before.

Why then did it take so long for me to manage to read this book? Because the first at least 150 pages were unbelievably dull and boring. The history of the Ottoman Empire and the First World War and all of the Russians pouring into the city to escape the Bolsheviks should have been interesting and riveting but instead it was a slog--it was like reading a history text book with little personality or feeling. I kept at it, on and off, reading other books and coming back to read a few pages at a time. And at last, my doggedness paid off.

Once King came to the rise of Ataturk and the modernization of Istanbul the story became exciting. Finally, the author began to talk about individuals who lived and moved through the city--and their lives and their motivations and their involvement in what the city is today. And, here too, the significance of the Pera Palace became more evident--for all of these people in one way or another stayed there, or had meetings there, or dealt with people who stayed there.

Now, we find ourselves talking about Trotsky's sojourn and the spies sent by Stalin to keep an eye on him and the move to Mexico. Now, we find a papal legate, named Roncalli, involved in moving Jews through the city to Palestine to escape the Nazi's, now we learn of all the Allied and Axis spies roaming around like Keystone Kops and studiously ignoring each other as they rub elbows in the Pera's Oriental Bar. And now, in three days, I was able to finish the last over 150 pages of the book.

But, once more, for the last 50 pages or so, King becomes a bit boring and redundant as he drives home the formation of Israel, the red tape and lack of coordination in moving Jews through the city to Palestine. Yet, at the end, when he describes the city as it looks now, there is a certain pleasure in knowing, that though very different than in its heyday, the Pera Palace, like the Hagia Sophia still stands. And, as one finishes, the horrible divisions of countries and peoples perpertrated by the Nazis and the League of Nations stuns. Particularly, the Palestinian-Israeli situation becomes even more clear and sad.

View all my reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment