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“Built for Europeans who came on the Orient Express”

Desires of Extravagant Strangers in Sinan Ünel’s ‚Pera Palas‘

Ralph J. Poole

Pages 159 - 180


The Pera Palace Hotel has long been a site of transnational interest. Its original intent when it was built in 1892 was to host passengers of the Orient Express, and its nickname as the “oldest European hotel of Turkey” aptly reflects this heritage. It has been the setting of Anglophone world literature, such as Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Graham Greene’s ‚Travels With My Aunt‘, and, perhaps most famously, Agatha Christie’s ‚Murder on the Orient Express‘. But the hotel also reflects Turkey’s own turbulent history from Istanbul’s luxurious Belle Epoque to the oftentimes nostalgic luxury of a postmodern metropolis, with Room 101 being converted into a memorial for Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, thus designating the space as museum-hotel. ‚Pera Palas‘ (1998), the play by Turkish-American playwright Sinan Unel, is a complex spatio-temporal interlacing of the hotel’s/nation’s history with that of a Turkish family and their Anglo-American friends and lovers encompassing the 1920s via the 1950s to present time. Intermingling East and West, past and present, Islam and Christianity, traditionalists and feminists, hetero- and homosexuality, this play is at once a multifarious love story and a polyloguous diasporic tale.


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