Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Last Train to Istanbul

Title:  Last Train to Istanbul
Author:  Ayse Kulin (translated by John W. Baker)
Publication Information:  AmazonCrossing. 2013. 395 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "What was all this fuss about religion? Surely, she though, religion should be practiced without thought of race or color, with all its ceremonies carried out in mosques, churches, and synagogues. God was worshiped in these communities, and people reached out to Him and found peace in their souls ... Yes, religion was a many splendored thing; surely it should be a part of life and not used to separate people?"

The Last Train to Istanbul is a story of World War II - in particular the Turkish community in Europe at the time of the war. Originally published in Turkish in 2002, the book has now been translated into English.

At the heart of the story is one family, descendants of the Ottoman emperors of Turkey. The parents give their daughters an education and liberty yet hold fast to traditional values. One daughter, Sabiha, follows that traditional path and marries an eligible young man and becomes a diplomat's wife. The other daughter Selva chooses a different path and marries out of the faith. Selva is Muslim, and Rafael is Jewish. Selva and Rafael marry against both families' wishes and flee to France to build a new life.

Then comes the Nazi invasion of France and the hunting down of Jewish residents. Selva and Rafael search for safety and learn that family comes together regardless of the disapproval of their choices. Through connections and the work of a group of Turkish diplomats in Europe, the two along with many others escape towards freedom.

The book is historical fiction - the history providing the story and the fiction providing the emotional basis. The book goes more on the side of history than the emotions of the individual characters and this family. Their characters and relationship do not fully develop. The characters remain a piece of the history being told, rather than the history becoming a backdrop for the story of this family. As such, the book is interesting to read, but an emotional detachment remains. That detachment makes it a less engaging book.

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