Book Review – Last Train To Istanbul

Last Train to IstanbulLast Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picked up this book last year with the intention of exploring stories from the Middle East and European regions. The title sold me since I have been somewhat fascinated by the country of Turkey. And the backdrop of the second world war was an added bonus.

The story primarily revolves around two sisters, Sabiha and Selva and their families during the German occupation of France in the second world war. Sabiha is the wife of a Turkish diplomat living in the Turkish capital city of Ankara while Selva is living with her Jewish husband in Paris.

Separated due to a past and by conflicting national boundaries the eponymous train seems to be the only chance of the sisters and the families of reuniting and reconciling their differences. The train also provides hopes for many Jews trapped in German occupied France to return to neutral nation of Turkey and beyond to the promised land.

Apart from the poignant tale of the two sisters and their families, the book also touches a lot on the geo-political situation of the region during WW II. Turkey’s diplomatic situation with the allies and the Axis powers is well explained and that too on a un-boring fashion. We are introduced to a few other secondary characters that aren’t all that important( or required in some instances) but I presume these were fashioned out of the true accounts of Jewish people who undertook this arduous and treacherous journey from France to Turkey via German and German occupied nations.

The writing is very fluid and simple with each chapter flowing effortlessly. I found myself gobbling up numerous chapters in single sittings (A major achievement for me!!) Perhaps it’s the fact that the book is translated to English from Turkish and maybe some of the more “purple prose” passages got trimmed down.

At around 360 pages this is a short read and good one too. The only complaint I would state is the length being a tad too short for the scope of the story that is being told. Especially with the myriad characters that get introduced throughout the book. But the last chapter somewhat makes up for that with a rather touching revelation.

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