August Books 12) Salonica: City of Ghosts

12) Salonica: City of Ghosts – Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower

This book was recommended to me last time I was in the city, and subsequently by (, not so much use for you as it starts some time after the 11th century). It is very good – an excellent story of the city through waves of depopulation and resettlement: the Greeks leave when the Ottomans take over in 1460, the Jews come in from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s, the city becomes one of the centres of the Ottoman empire and (I guess) the largest Jewish city in the world, and then is captured by the Greek kingdom in 1912, the Turks are kicked out in 1923, the Jews deported and almost all killed in 1943, and that’s it.

Mazower has written two other very good books, one on the Balkans and one on Europe as a whole. Like the others, this one is great on the grand sweeping strategies and the public personalities of the city. I would have liked a bit more of the human side of things, which he also does well. Three individual stories which he did present well, and which will linger in my mind, were the looting and destruction of the Incantadas (a glorious ancient monument) by the French in the early nineteenth century, the tango craze of the 1920s, and the deportation of the Jews in 1943.

Mazower is of course reconstructing a history which has been wilfully forgotten by the Greek state, which prefers to stick to a narrative of continuous Hellenism for the whole of the last millennium. The real story is of course more complex, and in the last couple of pages Mazower argues for his history particularly eloquently:

As small states integrate themselves in a wider world, and even the largest learn how much they need their neighbours’ help to tackle the problems that face them all, the stringently-patrolled and narrow-minded conception of history which they once nurtured and which gave them a kind of justification starts to look less plausible and less necessary. Other futures may require other pasts.

I think he proves his point well.

One thought on “August Books 12) Salonica: City of Ghosts

  1. The King’s Speech is a wonderful film, but not really eligible for the Hugos…

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