Select one of the keywords
Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds    by Stephen Kinzer order for
Crescent & Star
by Stephen Kinzer
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I wish Crescent & Star had been available when I travelled through Turkey. At the time, I knew that I was only getting glimpses of this large and complex country. Now Stephen Kinzer, once Istanbul bureau chief for the New York Times, presents its 'magnificent diversity' in depth. He begins by introducing some of the Westerner's historical stereotypes of a cruel Turk, the 'scourge of civilization', which led to two centuries of Crusades and reached a crescendo when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople (once Byzantium and now Istanbul) in 1453. At one time the Ottoman Empire included Athens, Belgrade and Baghdad; it threatened Vienna; and raided Britain.

On the other hand, the Turkish perspective is that this period was 'a golden age of ethnic harmony and cultural diversity' and there are good arguments for this, despite its having also been an age of continual warfare. Kinzer leads us through history to the time after World War I when Allies began to carve up Turkish territory. Mustafa Kemal AtatNaNrk, 'one of the twentieth century's most successful revolutionaries' fought back, founded the Turkish Republic, and has since been revered as a 'virtual deity' in his country. He modernized with a vengeance, even legislating the donning of European hats instead of the traditional fez (in 1978 when I visited, the headwear of choice was an English tweed cap, reminiscent of the Victorian era).

Kinzer shows his readers a country struggling between its past and its potential, and argues passionately and at length for its movement beyond its current state as a 'half-democracy', whose ruling elite is trapped in a 1920's viewpoint. He presents the power of its geography, linking East and West, and in a region ruled by tyrants, 'to reshape the entire world'. However he also exposes the nation's grim underside - the 1915 massacre of countless Armenians, its more recent oppression of the Kurdish minority, and its frequently brutal reaction to dissent. He describes the impact of exposure of Turks to other countries through involvement in the Korean War and as guest workers in Europe; and the development of a democratic consciousness from the rubble of the catastrophic 1999 earthquake.

The author lightens this historical and political treatise and makes it easily digestible by interspersing regular anecdotes of his life in Turkey - drinking its national (and very potent as I recall) drink raki while nibbling on meze at the meyhane; nargile salons where old men puff aromatic tobacco through the water pipes of elaborate hookahs while they play backgammon and 'stop and think'; visiting some of its countless archaeological sites like Zeugma, where 'one of the most important collections of Roman mosaics ever discovered' was found in the 70's; the ancient sports of camel fighting; cirit matches with wooden javelins stemming from Turkish roots as 'horse barbarians'; and oil wrestling that has gone on since the fifteenth century.

This is a fascinating book, which lets us see Turkey through the experienced eyes of someone who obviously feels strongly towards the land and its people. He lays bare some of its brutal reality, while making passionate arguments for its future potential. Crescent & Star is a must read for those who have travelled (or plan to travel) in Turkey, and also for anyone concerned about the future of this part of the world.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews