Last Train to Istanbul: Book summary and reviews of Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

Last Train to Istanbul

By Ayse Kulin

Last Train to Istanbul
  • Readers' rating:

  • Published in USA  Oct 2013,
    396 pages.

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Book Summary

An international bestseller by one of Turkey's most beloved authors

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 and begin rounding up Jews, 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 Istanbul is an uplifting tale of love and adventure from Turkey's beloved bestselling novelist Ayse Kulin.

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Reviews

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Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Patricia S. (Chicago, IL)
Last Train to Istanbul
I requested this book to review because there is so little written about Turkey in World War II. The rescue of the Jewish citizens of Turkey from Hitler's troops could only be thrilling. I thought the relations between the characters in Turkey and abroad in Vichy France would be fascinating and looked forward to learning more about Turkish culture in the middle of the 20th century. I wish I had read that book. I found this story slow and surprisingly dull, considering the situation. The women in the book mostly came off as hysterical, and the men, as calm and patient with them. Although one set of main characters was a Jewish/Turkish couple, which should have set up a lot of tension and suspense, because of their different religions if nothing else, the relationship didn't seem any different from the Turkish girl's parents. Although the Jews in France were in real danger, I didn't get that from this book. I felt distanced from the characters and their lives. Perhaps this was due to the fact that it was a translation, the author is a best-seller in her native language.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Anna S. (Auburn, AL)
Last Train to Istanbul
Often as I was reading this book I thought to myself, "I wish I could read this in the original language." The story is a good one but the language was rather stilted, presumably because it is a translation. However, I still recommend it because of the gripping story and the believable characters. The book presents an aspect of WWII with which I was unfamiliar, and it has inspired me to do some further reading on the subject.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Jennifer F. (Los Gatos, CA)
Gathering steam
Like a train picking up speed as it moves down the track, The Last Train to Istanbul pulls the reader along as the plot thickens. I became more and more intrigued with the characters and their predicament and found myself getting emotionally attached to them as they traveled toward Istanbul. I wasn't familiar with this facet of WWII history and the book revealed it in a very interesting fashion.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Patricia T. (Fallbrook, CA)
Last Train to Istanbul
This is a cracking story. Starting out, the prose seems a little stiff, formal, the dialogue a bit stilted, but as the plot progresses you simply cease to notice. A World War Two escape novel with a twist, Selva and Rafael, a Muslim and Jew, who marry in the face of tremendous parental opposition and cultural censure, leave their native Turkey to live in Paris. As the war cranks up and Nazi policies become terrifyingly clear, escape from the city becomes the main focus of their lives. Turkey is organizing a refugee train for their citizens, but who will get to be on it? How to deal with the many obstacles and dangers? Who else will be crammed on the train? Will they even get out at all, how will they get across the many borders? The suspense gradually builds, and you get drawn in to the point where you really care about the characters, who may initially not have been very appealing. The last half of the book is definitely in the "page turner" category, couldn't put it down. A great book, and an uplifting read about a tragic time in history.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Ann S. (Shenandoah, IA)
Last Train to Istanbul
Translations offer the opportunity to read a different perspective without knowing the language. Readers, though, are at the mercy of the translator. Words and phrases are often difficult to translate with the intended meaning and feeling. Some are better than others; even so, the different point of view comes through.

Ayse Kulin's book enlightened me about Turkey's position and dilemma during WW II and its affects on the people. I was also unaware of the tolerance and, at the same time, intolerance within their citizens. It spurs me on to reading more. The plot line was somewhat disorganized, but it was worth wading through it. That is the chance one takes when reading a translation.

Overall, I really liked the book and recommend it. I look forward to another of Kulin's books.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Chris W. (Temple City, CA)
Train to Istanbul
As historical fiction, I was fascinated with this story about the Turks' involvement in assisting the Jews escape from Hitler and learning more about the lives of the Turkish diplomats. The true reporting of the bravery, valor, and compassion of those who helped the Jews and other groups during WWII is always compelling. However, this was not beautiful prose, some of the plot lines went nowhere, and some of the writing seemed choppy which could certainly be due to translation. The author did a good job describing the deteriorating, scary conditions for the Jews in France, the work of the diplomats, the false sense of security that many people had living in France, the fear of being questioned by the SS and often not knowing what ever happened to a friend or relative who was taken away by the SS, and building tension during the train ride. This book had a lot more potential and feels somewhat incomplete. I would have enjoyed more detail about how this train ride was conceived and pulled together. Even so, I think it would lend itself to book club discussions and to groups interested in World War II and, specifically, the lesser known topic of the Turks' assistance to the Jews. Young people should learn about these heroes.

...15 more reader reviews

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One of Turkey's bestselling and most beloved authors, with more than ten million copies of her books sold, Ayse Kulin 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. A mother to four sons, she lives in Istanbul.

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