Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Shanghai Under Fire

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The snippet above is the opening of Shanghai Under Fire: July 1937 – March 1938, a 120-pages book published by the Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury that provides a day-by-day breakdown of what came to be known as The Battle of Shanghai.

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You can find relatively cheap reprints on Amazon, or a digitized copy in the Internet Archive, which is the one I am using right now. Continue reading

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Pulp History: Savitri Devi

Writing historical fiction and historical fantasy can sometimes lead to the discovery of less-than-pleasant characters.
Yesterday I made the acquaintance of someone I only knew passingly: Savitri Devi – the woman who, among other things,  was convinced that Hitler was an avatar (or incarnation) of Vishnu. Which I’d file under crackpot were it not for the fact that the lady in question is a character worth of pulp fiction, and shows us an aspect of history some of us might have missed.

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Born of a Greek/Italian French father and an English mother, Savitri Devi started out as Maximiani Julia Portas in 1905. Graduated in chemistry and philosophy inLyon, she went on an archaeological expedition to Grece and developed an early interest in Aryan culture because of Schlieman’s discovery of a swastika in Anatolia.
Having renounced her French nationality to become a Greek national, she moved close to National Socialist political positions and travelled to India in search of the roots of the Aryan civilisation. She converted to Hinduism (if, most likely, her own version of Hinduism), and she was a spy for the Axis in India, keeping an eye on the British. Continue reading


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The Wicked Bible and other misprints

Ah, more pulp history!
I love those weird little implausible bits of historical fact that, should I slip them in a story would be criticised as “implausible”.
Consider, if you will, the work of Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, printers to the Crown in the year of our lord 1631, that were given the simple task of reprinting the King James bible.

Now everything would have been fine had they not somehow caused some animosity in one of their employees who, when the time came to print the Bible, removed a single word, from Exodus 24:14, so that the list of the Ten Commandments now included an invitation, no, more, an injunction to commit adultery:

Thou shalt commit adultery

WickedbibleIt was no joke, actually. Barker & Martin were brought to judgement in the Star Chamber, the English court of law which sat at the royal Palace of Westminster, established to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against people so powerful that ordinary courts would likely hesitate to convict them of their crimes.
Because there was a time in which publishers were powerful.
Barker & Lucas were fined for 300 pounds (something like 65.000 bucks of today), and lost their license as printers.

King Charles the first ordered all copies of the “Wicked Bible” to be seized and burned, and the Archbishop of Canterbury observed

I knew the time when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the best, but now the paper is nought, the composers boys, and the correctors unlearned.

And you won’t believe it, but I heard the same complaint no longer that one week ago, if applied to general fiction and not the Bible.
Which might sort of remind us of another famous Biblical misprint from the 17th century, the so-called “Printers Bible”, from 1612, in some copies of which Psalm 119:161 reads “Printers have persecuted me without a cause” rather than “Princes have persecuted me…”

Ten or, according to other sources, eleven copies of the Wicked Bible survived, and now fetch prices in the order of the 100.000 pounds or more.

And it turns out there is quite a list of Biblical typos, most of which are actually hilarious.
My favourite certainly is the “Affinity Bible”, from 1927, containings a table of family affinities that includes the line “A man may not marry his grandmother’s wife.”

Which is certainly a good thing, as it would have caused a lot of awkward social situations.


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India’s Illuminati: The Nine Unknown Men

Strange – or not so strange – connections.
I was going through the Talbot Mundy catalog and, leaving Yasmini behind for a moment, I checked out The Nine Unknown, one of Mundy’s most Theosophical novels, originally published in 1923 in Adventure magazine.

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And I mentioned it with my brother, who is the serious Orientalist in our home, and thus I found out that the Nine Unknown Men are not something the Theosophists or Mundy cooked up, but are actually part of the real history of India. Continue reading


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Dr Jazz vs the Nazis

New year, I’ll start boring your socks off again about the joys of research.
I just pitched a story for an anthology, and I’ve been doing some preventive research on the subjects.
Which, in this case, means listening to a lot of jazz, and Django Reinhardt in particular.

Looking into the history of Reinhardt, I discovered Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, a Luftwaffe officer who, when Reinhardt was arrested (he was of Gipsy origin and a jazzman – both categories being on the Nazi black book), signed a letter and allowed him and his family to go free back to Paris. Continue reading