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Istanbul Intrigues/a True-Life Casablanca Hardcover – June, 1989
From Publishers Weekly
With material enough for a score of espionage thrillers, Rubin ( Modern Dictators ) offers a behind-the-scenes view of WW II from the vantage point of neutral but vulnerable Turkey, conveying the fear- and adventure-fraught atmosphere of strategically important Istanbul. There, as desperate refugees, fleeing before the Nazis' advance through the Balkans, struggled to survive by any means, some as Allied agents, spies from both sides hobnobbed and vied for the favors of beautiful women. Aided by access to Allied and Axis archives and by interviews with dozens of former agents, the author weaves a wealth of data into his smooth, spine-tingling narrative. He brings to life characters such as the Vatican's vicar to Istanbul, Angelo Roncalli (who was to become Pope John XXIII), who aided victims on both sides, and a British ambassador's valet who worked for the Germans--one among hundreds of agents and informers employed by 17 intelligence services. Rubin also records rivalry among U.S. agencies, most of whom, he claims, were amateurs compared to the British. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
In retrospect, my rather circuitous route from an Ellery Queen mystery to a well-researched military history seems fitting, as Rubin's description of WWII Istanbul was absolutely Byzantine. Seventeen intelligence organizations competed for critical information. Double agents, triple agents, and even quadruple agents were the norm. The Turks were rightly concerned with a possible German attack (Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece were already occupied), but they feared Russia even more. They considered the United States as foolishly naïve in its belief that Stalin would not continue to occupy Eastern Europe and the Balkans after Germany's defeat. And they did not entirely trust the British either.
The Turkish intelligence organization, the Emniyet, was remarkably effective and somehow managed to keep track of the convoluted intelligence operations practiced by the Germans, the Russians, the British, the Americans, and the lesser powers.
I was sometimes overwhelmed by the detail in Rubin's account and I occasionally found myself skimming some sections. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend reading Istanbul Intrigues. Not only is this good history and good melodrama, it has immediate relevance to current events in Turkey, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East and the Balkans.
We encounter a suicide attack on Franz von Papen, the opportunistic and devious German ambassador. We meet Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the Vatican's legate and apostolic vicar to Istanbul's few Catholics. He was in disfavor with the church hierarchy for speeches critical of Benito Mussolini. Later Roncalli becomes the ecumenical Pope John XXIII. Contrastingly, we become acquainted with disreputable characters like Andre Gyorgy who combined lucrative smuggling with espionage services for the Hungarians, British, American OSS, Zionists, and unknown to these four groups, he also worked for the Germans.
If you read only one chapter, you might try The Valet Did It (chapter 15), the story behind the English film, Five Fingers. Released in 1952, the movie, a purported true account, was based on a 1950 book by Ludwig Moyzisch, the SD's Ankara chief. (The SD was the intelligence arm of the Reich Security Ministry, one of the three competing German intelligence operations in Turkey.) Barry Rubin's research illustrates that the full story was far more complex than Moyzisch himself realized, and has more twists than most contemporary spy novels.
Although well-researched and apparently quite accurate, footnotes are not available. However, Rubin did provide some appendices that can be quite helpful: Selective List of Code Names for OSS-Turkey, List of Intelligence Organizations operating in Turkey, List of Individuals Interviewed, an extensive Bibliography, and a good Index.
Istanbul Intrigues was originally published by McGraw-Hill in 1989, reprinted in 1992 by Pharos books, and recently (2002) has been republished by Bosphorus University Press. New and used copies are available via the Internet.
Barry Rubin is a recognized expert on Middle East affairs. He has published 16 books, edited another 17, and is the editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs. His works include the widely acclaimed The Transformation of Palestinian Politics (Harvard, 1999) and The Israel-Arab Reader (Penguin/Putnam, 2002). He has taught at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, Georgetown University, the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is currently teaching at Hebrew University's Harry Truman Center. He contributes articles to the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal.
The authors powers of description is tremendous. You feel you are there, in that labyrinth of conspiracies and counterconspiracies between a multitude of factions. You travel to posh diplomatic receptions where impeccably dressed power brokers discuss the fate of nations over glasses of wine. You go to the bazaars and alleys of Istanbul where the spies carry on their game, refereed by the sinister and ever vigilant Emniyet, the Turkish secret police. You go to the Balkan's and Middle East to meet a devil's menagerie of partisans, bandits, smugglers, terrorists, spies, thises, thats, and the others. Or you visit the "politically unsound" exiled German and Russian aristocrat's, and watch them pine away their sorrows in meaningless luxury, interspersed by those who lend a hand to one faction or another. You meet heros, villains, and ordinary folk trying to survive. And you see the final end where the respective victors and vanquished are told their respective fates. Among the most pitiful of these by the way is that of the Poles and the Czechs who gave so much to final victory only to find they had fought for a lost cause, that victory was vain for them and their homes were enslaved to another conqueror. At least they are remembered for what it's worth.
This book is in my opinion the best World War II spy history that has ever been written. Certainly the best I have ever read. It is a pity that I am only allowed to give it five stars.
Jason Taylor(son of John Taylor)
There were many small memorable stories in this book. One was of a American OSS member looking for the Greek Embassy and knocking on the doot of the Japanese Embassy and being politely told where he needed to go. Another was the future Pope John XXIII being caught with a bust of Mussolini in his personal quarters and explaining to an American Cardinal that sometimes one had to put on appearances even though a person felt differently. Then there was the stories of human sufferings like the Turks and British not granting visas to Jews who could escape. Those not granted visas simply were killed by the Germans.
This is a nice read for WWII historians. This indeed was a different city to battle the forces of evil in. The author did a good job detailing a little known theater of war in World War Two.
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