Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

Posted 25 February, 2015 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 10 Comments

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last train to istanbulTitle: Last Train to Istanbul
Author: Ayse Kulin (Translated by John Baker)
Published: 2013;  Pages: 395
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: Lost in Translation?

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In Short: During World War II, Turkey evacuated nearly 20,000 Jews from Nazi occupied countries. This is historical fiction recounting of the Crescent and Star Train that transported thousands of displaced individuals to Turkey.

Why I Read: I think this one was an Amazon Daily Deal? I haven’t heard anything else about this one and I bought it on whim.

Thoughts in General: I remember in one of my undergrad history courses learning about all of the displaced Jews in the years leading up to, during, and certainly after World War II but I’ve since forgotten much of the details I learned. When I first started Last Train to Istanbul I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was about, but it starts out with a young Muslim Turk woman who eloped with a Jewish Turk. They ran off to Paris after their families disowned them even though Turkey was much more progressive and secular than many of the other European nations at the time. I admittedly also forgot that part of Turkey is considered European.

I learned a lot while reading Last Train to Istanbul. I learned about the cultural climate of Turkey during the lead up to World War II and it’s efforts to bring home its citizens (and free those who weren’t citizens) from Nazi occupied nations such as France. I learned about the cultural climate in France and what it meant to be an occupied country. It seems that I should have known a lot of these things, but I was hazy on the facts and spent quite a bit of time on Google reading supplemental information. I love when a book has me wanting to know more!

In that respect, Last Train to Istanbul was well worth the read. I did have some issues with the book, though I’m not sure how much of it might be due to the translation. The writing never pulled me in and while the story was always interesting to me it felt very ambitions–there were lots and lots of themes going on as well as many many characters. As a result I often couldn’t quite grasp which story was the main story and a lot of the book ended up feeling tangential or splintered by the end. This is a bestselling book and Kulin is apparently one of the more famous Turkish writers, but you know I’m always looking for a read that will really grab me by the heart.

Bottom Line: I’m so grateful to the historical pieces Last Train to Istanbul filled in my WWII knowledge puzzle, but I can’t help but wonder what was lost in translation. I recommend this one but not as an earthshattering or even an overly emotional read.

Just when I wonder if I’ve read all the angles on World War II I discover a new story.  Have you read any books that provide a lesser known history of World War II? Have you read Last Train to Istanbul?

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10 Responses to “Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin”

  1. You know, I’m not sure it’s even possible to read about all the myriad angles from WWII. I’d never heard of this book before, but think I’ll add it to my “keep my eyes out for” list. Even though you didn’t love it to death, I think I would very much enjoy the same things about that you did.

  2. There are SO many angles to WWII and it’s definitely a time period that fascinates me as well. Admittedly, I tend to forget lots of details about it until I read my next book set in that time period! Glad you got something out of this one even if it wasn’t a favorite.

  3. Gosh I dont know anything about Turkey during WWII … so this one does sound informative. I know about France but not Turkey. In that way it interests me. thanks

  4. Have you read A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell? I read it pre-blogging days, so not link to a review, but I’ve copied the blurb from Amazon. I highly recommend it. Not as good as The Sparrow (which I think is her very best book), but quite good and worthwhile. Here’s the blurb:

    It is September 8, 1943, and fourteen-year-old Claudette Blum is learning Italian with a suitcase in her hand. She and her father are among the thousands of Jewish refugees scrambling over the Alps toward Italy, where they hope to be safe at last, now that the Italians have broken with Germany and made a separate peace with the Allies. The Blums will soon discover that Italy is anything but peaceful, as it becomes overnight an open battleground among the Nazis, the Allies, resistance fighters, Jews in hiding, and ordinary Italian civilians trying to survive.

    Mary Doria Russell sets her first historical novel against this dramatic background, tracing the lives of a handful of fascinating characters. Through them, she tells the little-known but true story of the network of Italian citizens who saved the lives of forty-three thousand Jews during the war’s final phase. The result of five years of meticulous research, A Thread of Grace is an ambitious, engrossing novel of ideas, history, and marvelous characters that will please Russell’s many fans and earn her even more.

  5. This sounds like the type of historical fiction I would normally love – previously unknown historical facts, one of my favorite historical periods. That’s too bad that the writing didn’t live up to your expectations. I hate when that happens!

  6. I remember hearing something about this book but I don’t remember what that was anymore. It’s on my TBR though. Reading translations does worry me a lot – I always wonder how much of the cultural significance I am missing out on. Plus, if the writing bothered me, I can never be sure if the writing was the problem or the translation.

  7. This sounds so interesting! I hadn’t heard of it and while it may not be the best story I think the historical aspects alone would make me want to read this. Like you said, it’s great when a book brings more knowledge to you about a subject.