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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
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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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

Media Reviews

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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.

Nancy H. (Foster City, CA)

most enjoyable
Arriving back home from a trip to Turkey this selection was waiting for me, quite a timely arrival. Having now completed Last Train to Istanbul, I am not surprised to learn that Ayse Kulin is "one of Turkey's best selling and most beloved authors". Via a most compelling cast of characters, I learned more about the incredible pressure Turkey was under from all sides to join WWII and how a few courageous Turkish diplomats used their influence and connections to save the lives of hundreds of innocent Jews. The author did an excellent job of getting us inside the head of male and female characters so we could understand the complexity of their situations and the often painful and dangerous decisions they needed to make. Given the treatment other minorities experienced across time in Turkey, I was glad to learn there actually were a group of compassionate, idealistic (in the best of ways) officials who had the courage to be humane.

Nancy C. (Newton, KS)

Last Train To Istanbul
I love books like this because not only does it have a compelling plot line but I also learned so much from reading it. This novel takes place in the time during World War II.
There is an amazing wealth of information that I wasn't aware of about the part Turkey played in World War II.
Ayse Kulin weaves a story filled with love, intrigue, and great tension as the novel develops. I felt she crafted the characters carefully and made me want to know more about them as the story evolved. The religious and military tension in the cities of Paris, Marseilles and Istanbul were well described. All in all, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a well-crafted story with historical significance.

Kathleen R. (Ogdensburg, NY)

Catch this train
In the 7th century BC, the leaders of Eastern Anatolia gave the people they conquered freedom of faith. In 1492, the Jews expelled from Spain were invited to come to Constantinople to live. The people of Turkey have embraced all different creeds. Ayse Kulen has taken one family to illustrate how individuals with the help and blessing of the Turkish government helped Jews escape from the Nazi's and death camps during WWII. The description of the individuals and the terrors they faced in Paris during the War are enthralling, and the suspense grows steadily like a train pulling away from a station until the very last moments of the novel. The bravery of the people involved is inspirational. The final question for all of us is whether or not we could put our lives at risk to save others as so many did during The Holocaust.

Priscilla M. (Houston, TX)

A Story of Courage
Last Train to Istanbul is a story of courage, but not the blockbuster kind Hollywood likes to portray. It is the quiet courage of convictions born of love, patriotism, and compassion. The story unfolds slowly and thoughtfully, laying the groundwork for a satisfying conclusion. The careful layering of relationships, both personal and political, is part of the essential framework.
Turkey, strategically placed, is being pressured by the Allies and by Germany to choose sides in the early days of WWII. Macit is an official in the government's general staff and attend endless meetings as Turkey tries to remain neutral. His wife Sahiba grieves over the estrangement of her sister Selva, who, against her Muslim family's wishes, marries a Turkish Jew and moves to Paris. Selva and her husband Rafe move from Paris to Marsielle to try to escape the ever tightening noose being drawn by the Gestapo. The fate of all Turkish citizens, Jews and Muslim, hangs in the balance as Hitler moves farther into France.
The main characters in this story are believable and solid. Some you will identify with more than others, but all play a part in developing the story. I learned a lot about the people of Turkey and how they took care of all their citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, during WWII.

Catherine M. (Mankato, MN)

Last Train to Istanbul
Ayse Kulin's engaging and illuminating "Last Train to Istanbul" is, throughout its pages, a story of separation and connection. From a broad perspective, Turkey struggles to remain disengaged from the war raging throughout Europe while England, Germany, and Russia seek to draw it (not she, as used in the story) in. At the same time, but from a more focused perspective, the main characters—individuals, families, and Turkey's courageous and honorable diplomats—grapple with distances (literally and figuratively), discord, and constancy between and among themselves.

I learned a great deal from reading Kulin's book. As with Thomas Keneally's "Schindler's List", I came to understand a bit more about morality, valor, and decency during dishonorable and abhorrent times.

...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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