Midnight at the Pera Palace is a vibrant, entertaining and dazzlingly original social history not only of the city of Istanbul at the dawn of the modern era, but also of the many worlds that intersected in ‘the only place on earth to have been the epicenter of both Christendom and global Islam’. The story of Ottoman Constantinople’s transformation into republican Istanbul takes in the Götterdämmerung of empires that followed the end of the First World War, the rise of ethnic nationalism and its tragic consequences, and the struggle of a conservative, Islamic society to adapt itself to the new century. Set between the outbreak of the First World War and the aftermath of the Second, Charles King’s book provides a vivid portrait of a city filled with impoverished White Russian émigrés, disillusioned revolutionaries and broken imperialists from at least three empires.
He centres his narrative on the famous Pera Palace, the grand hotel opened in 1892 by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits that boasted the second electric elevator in Europe (the other was in the Eiffel Tower). Its bar and coffee room – sadly recently ravaged by a horribly insensitive restoration