The guardian shore is under threat,
it's waters lit by fire,
reflecting off each mineret
then leaping up far higher.
On drifting unwelcome shipwrecks flee,
refugees to doors half shut,
and those upon the ramparts fear,
that all escape is cut.
Councilors heatedly debate,
while envoys speak with charm,
so none can help but hesitate,
between such hope and harm.
Spies do gather, purchase, bribe
inside the city walls.
Can one hope faithfully to describe,
that which then befalls?
This evocative verse leads into Barry Rubin's masterpiece Istanbul Intrigues. There are many cities
in the world which have had conspiracies take place within them. This is the only city that is
an adjective for conspiracy. Like a good spy it has had many names. To the Northmen it was Miklagard
the Great, where a hardy mercenary had a good job waiting for him battleing the Emperor's foes.
In the Middle Ages, it was Constantine's City, greatest in all of Christiandom. To the Ancient Greeks
it was Byzantium, from whence we get the well deserved adjective for intrigue, "Byzantine." And to the
Turks it is, of course, Istanbul. But whatever name it goes under, it is still the dark Queen of Cities.
The crossroads of the world where can be found every race in the Meditteranean, and in which lie secrets,
upon secrets and secrets within secrets heaped upon one another every which way. It is a place
of splendor and a place of many a tale. So it has ever been. So it still is. And so it was in the
days of our grandfathers when the world was in flames.
Barry Rubin is a political columnist. But he missed his calling, for he should have been a spy novelist.
Istanbul Intrigues is a history that paints vividly the Eastern Meditterranean during World War II, centering on neutral
Turkey. It gives a show of the labyrinthine struggle between the many factions contending for influence.
From the elegant diplomatic receptions where inpeccably dressed powerbrokers decided the fate of nations
over wine and caviar. To the seemy underworld of the bazaars and alleyways where the struggle went
on in a less elegant form-but ever refereed by the Turkish Security, the grim and ever vigilant Emniyet whom
the author obviously admires. It also shows the politics and warfare in and around the Balkans and
Middle East wherein the warring parties nibbled at each other.
The descriptions are excellant and a delight to read. They have an aesthetic quality reached by few
spy novels. And they show well the feel of the constant, ever-changing labyrinth of Power-politics, and
covert-warfare, in the greatest of all conflicts.
Some will find fault with it's obvious nostalgia and romanticism of World War II. Seemingly an odd fault
for someone named Rubin. Perhaps it is, as romanticism of war often is, a lament. But the romanticism is in
this case not cartoonish(a flaw which my experience as an amateur writer makes me more charitable toward) at least.
And it does suit my taste and will suit many others.
So if you wish for a book to both entertain and inform you, read Istanbul Intrigues and you will
likly be pleased.
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