Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin – 4 Stars

Last Train to IstanbulCover art thanks to Goodreads, click on it to visit book’s page there.

I borrowed this book from my library!

Book Synopsis:

As the daughter of one of Turkey’s last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life.

But when the Nazis invade France, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing—not war, not politics, not even religion—can break the bonds of family. For after they learn that Selva is but one of their fellow citizens trapped in France, a handful of brave Turkish diplomats hatch a plan to spirit the Alfandaris and hundreds of innocents, many of whom are Jewish, to safety. Together, they must traverse a war-torn continent, crossing enemy lines and risking everything in a desperate bid for freedom. From Ankara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, Last Train to Istanbulis an uplifting tale of love and adventure from Turkey’s beloved bestselling novelist Ayşe Kulin.

My Review:

So.  You might be wondering if you have the right blog.  Yes, this genre fiction lover does upon occasion read outside of her comfortable box and this book is one of those exceptions to my regular reading  interest.  Before I get to the ‘real review’  I thought I would give you some background information on me to give you a better idea why I picked this book.  Basically I’m married to a Turk, oh sure he was born in Bulgaria, but he is a Turk (up until WWI his part of Bulgaria was included in the Ottoman Empire.  With the collapse of the empire, ending of the war and the redrawing of boarders his family found themselves outside of the newly formed Turkey).  Because of this I have visited Turkey a total of 8 times for vacation and visiting family,  I love Turkey and the Turkish people.  So in our house we will often bring home Turkish treasures that we find in the stores (towels, clothes, food, jewelry and books) simply because it came from or is about Turkey.  Often I have used the line “It’s made in Turkey” to justify a lovely bracelet or ring that catches my eye…hubby falls for it every time…  Anyway,  I was recently browsing for titles to add to the library book order and came across this book and thought it would be one my husband and other patrons in the area might like, WWII stories are popular in my town.  This is why a book that typically would never catch my eye ended up on my reading list.

I am so glad it did.  While I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of this book, I’m glad I read it.  The reasons I tend to not watch movies or read books about WWII and the persecution of  Jews is because it makes me angry.  Angry over what happen to millions of people and that for most of the war the world turned a blind eye to Germany and their attempt to erase an entire people from the earth.  I have very strong opinions about Germany and how I feel they should be regarded,  I will try to rope them in for this review.

This book is simply a beautifully told story that chronicles the actions that several Turkish diplomats took to save not only Jewish Turks, but Jews of many nationalities from the grasp of Hitler.  The brave actions of these men are not well-known in the world and I hope with stories like this one, these brave souls can get the recognition they are due.  They stood up and did what they could to save lives.  They did this without the support of their government and to the risk of not only their lives but those of their families.    In retrospect they couldn’t save many, only 35,000 lives from what I can find on the internet, but they did something when so many would do nothing.

From what I can tell the author did quite a bit of research and incorporated many of the actual events that took place into her book.  Sure she tweaked them a bit to fit her plot, but one of the scenes involving Turks being rounded up and put on cattle cars and a brave diplomat boarding and refusing to leave the train without those passengers really happen.  It was such a moving chapter for me and to know someone really did that makes me proud to be married to a Turk.

The story moves at a good pace, moved back and forth in time in the beginning which was a little confusing, but that stops once you get into the story.  The translation leaves some Turkish words in the text, but it isn’t too distracting or difficult to figure out what they mean.  The characters are believable and good examples of different types of Turkish personalities I’ve known.  It was an interesting portrayal of the country at this time period.  Turkey was a young country, having just rebuilt herself from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.  She did not want to risk anything by entering WWII, and we get to see how they worked so very hard to keep Turkey a neutral country. We also get a glimpse of what life was life at home for well-to-do families in Turkey during WWII.  I imagine they were very much like those of Western families of influence.   But like Turkey herself, even the main family this story revolves around, is stubborn on both sides.  They are willing to cut their noses off to spite their face and in this case it not only cost one family precious time together it almost cost them their lives.

My only complaint is that the end felt rushed.  There was this whole build up of getting the Turks out of Paris and the reunion of families I would have liked to see more of what happen after their arrival in Turkey.  The story made me cry and get angry at times, it also made me cheer and smile.  Like I said it is a beautiful story and I hope you give it a try to learn a little about what these Turkish heroes did to save the lives they could.



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