Last Train to Istanbul
By: Ayse Kulin
Paige’s Rating: (3) of 5
Recommended for: History Readers
When Selva falls in love with Rafael, a young Jewish man, their families are against their marriage and disown them. Together they go to live in France, but happiness eludes them there too. With the advent of the Second World War they get caught up in Hitler’s web of terror. At the same time Turkey is desperately trying to avoid being drawn in to the war, walking the tightrope between the Axis and the Allies very carefully.
This book came highly recommended to me, and I had to admit that the history of WWII and Turkey’s neutrality seemed interesting, along with the drama of Nazi Germany. I was excited to read the book for the plot.
To be honest, the plot was good in theory. While the plot moves between Turkey, Egypt, France and Germany, the primary plot is between Paris and Istanbul and between the two sisters: Selva who has been disowned for marrying a Jewish man that she loves and now lives in France, and Sabiha who has married a Turkish diplomat and the marriage has chilled. Sabiha struggles with relationships between her husband, her daughter, and even her doctor who believes she is depressed. She is concerned greatly about her younger sister who is in France. Meanwhile, Selva is more of a fighter, struggling to not only save her family from the Nazi’s but other Jews as well. Sabiha’s story allows for the reader to see the diplomatic difficulties Turkey faced at the time of being a new and neutral republic. Selva’s story paints a more terrifying story of the Nazis invading France and beginning the round up of Jews, regardless of the nationality they held. The involvement of Turkey is fresh and interesting, something not often mentioned in the history books.
However, I found the writing completely fragmented and the ideas choppy. I know that the original story was written in Turkish, and so I can’t say if the fault lies with the author or the translator. Some of the scenes in the book seem a bit dry or cold. Other scenes seem a bit hurried, while yet others seem a bit drawn out. It was quite the mix of voice and it didn’t translate well at all.
On top of that, the editing job was disastrous. I couldn’t believe that the editor missed so many simple mistakes. On more than one occasion, the translator wrote “of” when it should have been “off.” These basic mistakes were like nails on a chalk board while reading and I felt that the thanks Kulin gave the editors at the end of the book was really undue.
So overall, I had to give the book a three. The plot had a lot of potential and was definitely interesting and creative. However, the voice given to the plot through the translation lacked a lot of continuity and emotion. Therefore, it was a bit difficult to read.