Mid­night at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Mod­ern Istanbul

  • From the Publisher
May 22, 2014

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.

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