Book Review – Last Train to Istanbul – Ayse Kulin. Translated by John W. Baker

Hey guys. I’m back today with another book review. Let’s discuss Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin.last-train-to-istanbul-ayse-kulin


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, 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 Ayşe Kulin. – Goodreads

I got this book as part of my birthday haul and I was really looking forward to reading it. I also chose it as my July pick for the Penguin UK’s Read The Year Challenge, the theme being, “Go anywhere in (or out of) the world with a book”. After reading reviews I was convinced that this book was going to be one of my favourite reads of the year. Sadly this wasn’t the case. Nah go lie, I’m a bit disappointed.

What I Liked

This author knows how to set the scene. Her descriptions of places be it a home or a government building in Turkey, a deserted street in Paris or a concentration camp, she makes you feel like you are there, on the outside looking in. The characters were also well written. I liked that she took the time to give us enough background on each main character so we could understand them moving forward throughout the story. In doing so, she confronted issues such a religion, culture, tradition and how families in Turkey in that time were trying to navigate their way through a new age in government and impending war. 

What I liked the most was this book taught me something new. I read many books on World War 2 and Nazi Germany (I’m a bit of a history buff) and I like when a book teaches me or shows me an aspect of the war I didn’t know before. There’s only so much you can learn in school right? I never really knew about Turkey’s role in WW2 besides the fact that they remained neutral despite pressure from both the Allies and Germany. Learning that the Turkish government tried to make sure that Turkish Jews were to be kept safe from the Nazis, made sure they had their papers and passports, had them released from the camps and in this book, organized trains to get the Jews out Europe was fascinating and heart warming. It made me want to do more research on this.

What I didn’t like

Unfortunately, this book really failed to grab me. I didn’t find myself getting absorbed in the story. Halfway through, I felt like we hadn’t really gotten to the meat of the story and it felt like we were dealing with too many things at once. Are we dealing with the war and diplomacy or are we dealing with this characters marriage issues? 

I also feel like this book may have gotten a little lost in translation. There were some instances in the book where the language felt off and even juvenile. I couldn’t help but wonder if this book sounded better in it’s original language? You know when you watch a Hindi film or any film in it’s original language and you read the subtitles and they sound ridiculous? Then you ask someone who speaks the language what it means and they say, “It sounds better in Hindi”. I think that’s what happened with this book. I think that translations probably took away from what the book accomplished in it’s original language.

The biggest disappointment for me was the ending. I had anticipated the train journey to be intense and a bit dramatic and it was but once again, it was all over the place. I felt like the author was throwing in characters and incidents that weren’t necessary, like she realized that there were things that should have happened but she didn’t include them before so here you go, drop that in. They didn’t feel organic and it took away from this ending that was supposed to be big and exciting. Not to give spoilers but I personally have a problem where major things such as rape just get tossed into a story. Rape is a very serious issue, it shouldn’t be thrown into a book just because and then never dealt with again, why would you do that? I just couldn’t understand. 

So yeah, this book was a no for me, it just didn’t do it for me. I wont tell anyone not to read it though, you can and decide for yourself. It does have really good reviews just not from me.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you think.

Til next time 🙂

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