Book Review: Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

I have lately developed an affinity to read literature and books based on the time of the Second World War. While I find myself appalled reading the details of the life spent in the concentration camps, stories of people’s life before and after the period leave me surprised as well. One such book that was recommended to me by a history professor when I talked about pieces of fiction on Jews in Europe when Hitler was expanding his hold was the Last Train to Istanbul by one of the finest writers from Turkey, Ayse Kulin


Last Train to Istanbul is the story of two sisters, Sahiba and Selva, born into a rich and established family of Ankara, the capital of Turkey. Both the sisters were given the best of education money could buy along with lessons in foreign language, piano and other forms of art any modern society would appreciate.

The sisters were not only different in terms of their appearance but their personalities were poles apart as well. While Sahiba craved the life of a socialite which she finally achieved by marrying a Turkish diplomat Macit, Selva was a rebel always questioning the rules that society imposed on them. Her final act of rebellion was against her own father when she decided to marry a Turkish Jew, Rafael instead of a nice Turkish Muslim her father wanted her to get settled with. She did pay for her rebellion with loosing not only contact with her family but the family she was marrying into thus being forced to start a new life in France.

Little did Selva know that the moment she thinks that she has been able to carve a life for her, her husband and her baby boy in a foreign land, a war would come knocking at their door threatening the very existence of his husband’s faith.

The atrocities carried out by Nazi soldiers finally forced Selva and her little family back to her homeland she was forced to leave due to unsupportive family and friends. But before she reaches and faces the challenges in Turkey, she has to take a dangerous journey through the war stricken Europe on the last train to Istanbul.

Narration & Character Development

Narration of the book is more like a soothing piece of music that transports you to a different headspace. The author has done a beautiful job in painting a vivid picture of Istanbul before the war struck the world. The description is so real that you can’t help but imagine the difference wat the country was and what it has turned into.

Character development is another applaudable thing about the book. Sahiba and Selva are described as any other sisters struggling to love each other even if they do not agree with the other person’s decisions. The love hate relationship between these two sisters is one of the most beautiful things descried in the book. Characters are relatable and none of them have been introduced or let go in haste.

My Review

It has been a while since I found a book I could not put down. I was surprised to find at the end of the book that this was a translated version because most books loose the essence of their narration during translation. It is a beautiful piece of writing that reminds you of the complicated relationship you share with your loved ones. I love how the author was able to portray emotional outburst without being unrealistically dramatic

Final Verdict

I absolutely loved the book and ended up finishing it in one sitting. The story is keeps you on your toes and the writing pretty much transports you to the time and lives of the character. A book not to be missed if you are interested in the Second World War era.

Which is your favourite book from the World War II era?

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