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Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of…

Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul

by Charles King

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Enjoyable romp through the history of Constantinople/Istanbul in the 20th century. Grand events of Turkish & world history are interspersed with personal stories of entrepreneurs, singers, beauty queens, spies, archaeologists and the ups and downs of the singular Pera Palace, one of the great surviving institutions of pre-Kemal Istanbul. King moves deftly between macro and micro-history, it is a great way to learn the basics of how the age-old Ottoman Empire morphed into the modern nation-state of Turkey. ( )
  drmaf | Mar 30, 2017 |
I liked the way the writer included historical facts among everyday life. I also liked his intention to put the Hotel as a way to show theses changes. In fact, the Hotel role was missed through the book with much more emphasis in the political situation and the Jews fate during the WW II.About this subject it was very interesting how it was described the Jewish migration to Palestine but a subject like that deserved a more extended description better fitted in a different book. Too short and quick the texts about Turkey politics transition to modern time. ( )
  palu | Jul 9, 2016 |
Dealing with the themes of transition, transience and transformation in the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the Turkish Republic, King hangs much of his tale on the rise and fall of the hotel the Pera Palace, which originated as a destination created by the firm who ran the fabled Orient Express.

Was I entertained by this book; yes. Is it faultless; no. In an essentially picaresque tale the book does have a somewhat meandering quality at time. Still, if you're looking for an introduction into the rise of Modern Turkey you could do a lot worse then picking this book to start your education. ( )
  Shrike58 | Aug 28, 2015 |
I received an Advance Reading Copy via GoodReads First Reads program.

King's work is richly detailed in the time period between the end of the 19th Century and the middle of the 20th, with focus not just on Istanbul but on the Ottoman Empire/Turkey in general as well. The stories told are incredibly detailed and are presented in an attractive and easy to read manner.

Overall, King offers what may be the last word on the rise of modern Istanbul. He's gifted as a historian in his ability to blend an attention to detail with an interesting storyline, making even the most ignorant of readers able to follow along with the extreme changes facing Istanbul before and after World War I. A must read for anyone interested in WW1, the Ottoman Empire, or Turkish history in general. ( )
  bdtrump | May 9, 2015 |
A mainly social history of the development of modern Istanbul in Turkey through the 20th century. The book uses the construction and life of the Pera Palace Hotel as a loose focus for the great changes occurring in Istanbul from the end of the Ottoman Empire through the creation of the Republic and, most importantly, the development of turkishness itself. King knows his stuff and is clearly in love with Istanbul and its people, the Istanbullus. The strength of this history is how he brings forward characters almost certainly unknown to anyone outside of Turkey and shows how they impacted the social development of the city.

A surprise to me is how strong King is on the Turkish and Istanbullus persecution of minorities. A key theme through the book is the destruction of multi-cultural life in favour of a wholly fabricated ideal of Turkey and being Turkish - both really unknown before the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Republic after the First World War. A lot of space is devoted to the shabby treatment of Jews before and during the Second World War. It is interesting to see how the enforcement of a secular society in Turkey was also used to force a purely Islamic religiosity on the people, with many laws and regulations aimed at driving non-Islamic and non-Turkish (that is, Armenian, Greek, Jewish and Christian) populations, many of whom had lived and worshipped in Istanbul for generations, out of society and ultimately out of the country. There is no doubt from this book that Istanbul has become less diverse and less culturally rich as a result.

My only criticisms are that the many photographs are reproduced poorly and that there are insufficient maps to help readers less familiar with Istanbul than they might be with other major cities. ( )
1 vote pierthinker | Mar 30, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393089142, Hardcover)

“Intrigue, violence, sex, and espionage, all set against the slow dimming of Ottoman magnificence. I loved this book.”—Simon Winchester

At midnight, December 31, 1925, citizens of the newly proclaimed Turkish Republic celebrated the New Year. For the first time ever, they had agreed to use a nationally unified calendar and clock.

Yet in Istanbul—an ancient crossroads and Turkey's largest city—people were looking toward an uncertain future. Never purely Turkish, Istanbul was home to generations of Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, as well as Muslims. It welcomed White Russian nobles ousted by the Russian Revolution, Bolshevik assassins on the trail of the exiled Leon Trotsky, German professors, British diplomats, and American entrepreneurs—a multicultural panoply of performers and poets, do-gooders and ne’er-do-wells. During the Second World War, thousands of Jews fleeing occupied Europe found passage through Istanbul, some with the help of the future Pope John XXIII. At the Pera Palace, Istanbul's most luxurious hotel, so many spies mingled in the lobby that the manager posted a sign asking them to relinquish their seats to paying guests.

In beguiling prose and rich character portraits, Charles King brings to life a remarkable era when a storied city stumbled into the modern world and reshaped the meaning of cosmopolitanism.

32 photographs

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:26 -0400)

"In this ... portrait of urban reinvention, Charles King re-creates an era when an ancient city became a global crossroads--a forgotten moment when Europe's closest Muslim metropolis became its vital port of refuge"--Provided by publisher.

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