THE GREAT FIRE by Lou Ureneck


One American's Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century's First Genocide
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Ureneck (Journalism/Boston Univ.; CabinTwo Brothers, a Dream and Five Acres in Maine, 2011, etc.) brings to light the miracles of a little-known hero.

In 1922, Asa Jennings was a Methodist minister working as a secretary for the YMCA assigned to Smyrna, located in modern-day Turkey. Smyrna, occupied by Greece, was the richest and most multicultural city of the eastern Mediterranean. Jennings and his family arrived shortly after the Turkish Nationalist Army defeated the Greeks at Afyonkarahisar-Eskishehir. The Nationalist’s leader, Mustafa Kemal, continued the policies of the “Young Turks” who had taken over the government. Ureneck’s research is thorough and wide-ranging as he explains the 500 years of conflict between Greece and Turkey, the World War I years of the Armenian genocide, and the new government’s policy of Turkey for the Turks, barring all others. Jennings’ appeals for evacuation to the American senior Naval officer, Adm. Mark Lambert Bristol, were generally ignored. Bristol was a well-known supporter of the Nationalists and harbored little sympathy for the refugees. With the backing of the heroic commander of the USS Edsall, Halsey Powell, and the help of the Greek commander of the Kilkis, they managed to evacuate more than 250,000 people from Smyrna in only seven days. With no Allied ships, they convinced the Greeks to lend merchant ships and then persuaded the Turks to allow them into the harbor under American escort, as long as they didn’t fly the Greek flag. Powell certainly fudged his orders by escorting the ships, and Jennings worked night and day to move the refugees to a safe location. The story, especially that of Jennings, crippled by tuberculosis and typhoid, is remarkable, and Ureneck delivers it with a wonderful style that grabs and holds the reader’s attention.

An inspiring illumination of a hero who deserves recognition.

Pub Date: May 12th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-225988-2
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2015


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