From Publishers Weekly
In his intricately researched new work, King (The Black Sea) brings to life the stories of the Russians, Jews, Turks, Greeks, Italians, Germans, and Romanians that make up the "quintessentially mixed city" of Odessa. Far from the Russian and Ukrainian seats of power, but close to Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean states, Odessa has always been both a progressive, cosmopolitan trading port and a lawless outpost given to periods of violence, revolution, and economic depression. King effortlessly moves between the city's high points, like the booming grain trade in the late-18th and mid-19th centuries and urban development under the duc de Richelieu, and its desperate times, including the economic collapse associated with the Crimean War and the city's devastating Jewish holocaust at the hands of Romanian occupiers in the 1940s. King weaves into his history the lives of Alexander Pushkin, Isaac Babel, and Sergei Eisenstein, all of whom had connections to Odessa, a city still struggling to understand its place in the world. King's ability to lay bare the city's secrets— both good and bad—gives a fascinating prism through which to observe. (Feb.)
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Unlike so many other great cities, the foundation of Odessa is not lost in the mists of a distant, legendary past; it was formally founded by a decree of Russian empress Catherine the Great in 1794. Of course, as King illustrates, the spot that became Odessa has a long and fascinating, if often tragic, history. Located along the Black Sea at the nexus of multiple trade routes, the site and the surrounding area have hosted a great variety of settlers and conquerors over thousands of years, including Greeks, Jews, Tatars, Turks, and Germans. The result was a vibrant, diverse port city whose ethnic stew was both a blessing and a curse. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Odessa was a great center of Jewish culture, and King relates how the Jewish population was virtually destroyed by occupying Romanians under Nazi sponsorship. This is a well-written chronicle of a city unfamiliar to most in the West and serves as both a tribute and lament. --Jay Freeman