‘I felt as if I was on the train’
Though the book Last Train to Istanbul was launched in 2013, it was only now that I got to know about it and I am glad to be acquainted with Ayşe Kulin, a Turkish author of international fame. As to why I picked this book, I like the genre ‘historical fiction’. Here are my views about the book.
This book set during the WW2. It’s a heartwarming tale about how the then Turkish government helped Jews get away from Hitler's Gestapo from Southern France by providing passports and Muslim identities to Jews who were Turkish citizens and even to other non-Muslims. The book specifically tells about a train that takes an arduous journey to exit France as it has to take a roundabout route to reach its final destination-Turkey. And chillingly the train has to enter Germany at one point. I would say this-if you're interested to know about how the Germans treated Jews during the WW2 and are interested in Turkish literature this book should definitely be on your reading list.
The story is about Sabiha and Selva, daughters of a wealthy Ottoman Pasha family living a rather Page 3 existence. They were not alien to refined schools, elegant parties and social talk. But things take 360 degrees turn when the younger headstrong Selva falls in love with Rafael Alfamdari, son of a Jewish doctor. Even after her father opposes the relationship she goes ahead and marries Rafo. Her father does not forgive her and disowns her, so the young couple decides to move to Paris to start a new life. Meanwhile, the elder sister Sabiha marries a Turkish diplomat much to the happiness of her family. All is well in both the sisters’ lives and both have a kid each too.
France is soon invaded by Germany and Paris becomes the center of all activities. Selva and Rafo have to move further south to Marseilles to escape the rounding up of Jews but to no avail as every day Jewish men, women and children live in fear of being rounded up never to be seen again. The story traces the courage and empathetic nature of Turkish diplomats who risked their lives to help Turkish Jews and non-Turkish Jews escape German occupied France.
The good things in the book
The book eventually becomes a tale of hardship, friendship, loyalty, and love between spouses, sisters, parents and children. It also tests for religious hypocrisy and the true meaning of forgiveness. Author Ayşe Kulin has total grip on the plot. She has superbly interwoven history and fiction.
The not so good part
One can feel that something is missing; maybe somethings are lost in translation. The language could have been a little smoother.
About the author
Ayşe Kulin is one of Turkey's bestselling and most beloved authors, with more than ten million copies of her books sold so far, and is known for captivating stories about human endurance. In 2011, Forbes Turkey declared her the country's top-earning author. In addition to penning internationally bestselling novels, she has also worked as a producer, cinematographer, and screenwriter for numerous television shows and films. She is a mother to four sons, she lives in Istanbul.
It's definitely one of those books that I simply found so good that I did not want it to end! The more I progressed into the story the more I got emotionally attached to the characters. While reading the second half of the book I felt as if I was on the train with the characters...that’s the beauty of this book!