*** Midnight at the Pera Palace by Charles King

The modest subtitle of Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul suggests that we will learn about, well, the birth of modern Istanbul, but it’s a serious understatement. First, we learn about the birth of modern Turkey rather than just its largest city, and it turns out that the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th brought extraordinary events and visitors to the city, as if the birth of a new country wasn’t enough! Who knew that Trotsky was exiled (and assassinated) there? That hundreds of thousands of White Russians had fled there before him? That Ataturk pushed for a pious Muslim Turkish woman to run for Miss Universe? (She won). That the famous Christ mosaic in Hagia Sophia was restored during that time period? That a quarter of the Jews who made it to Palestine during WWII transited through Istanbul? If, like me, you deplore your ignorance of that area of the world, read this book, full of interesting facts told with verve and passion.


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