Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul

Norton. Sept. 2014. 480p. photos. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393089141. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393245783. HIST
The Pera Palace, named after the fashionable Pera neighborhood in Istanbul, housed foreign soldiers during World War I and foreign spies during World War II. Over the years, the residence was the site of a murder, a suicide, and an explosion. Using the palace as a backdrop, King (international affairs, Georgetown Univ.) skillfully recounts the decline of the Ottoman Empire after WWI. King describes how Britain reapportioned the once-sizable Ottoman Empire, leaving Turkey a demilitarized power at the edge of Europe. Domestic upheaval, combined with the refusal of Parliament to acknowledge Allied forces while Sultan Mehmed V lingered in house arrest, led to fervent support of charismatic soldier Mustafa Kemal, who declared Ankara as the country's capital, ended the sultanate, and founded the Republic of Turkey. The nation began a painful adolescence as Kemal—quietly supported by Lenin and the Bolsheviks—instilled patriotism and championed modernism yet enforced ethnic cleansing and exiled at will. King concludes with Turkey's difficult decision to stay neutral during World War II despite the number of Jewish refugees seeking asylum. Intriguing anecdotes of many Istanbul residents and visitors complete the narrative.
VERDICT This satisfying read is highly recommended for anyone interested in war or religious history.

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