Sunday 6 September 2015

Last Train to Istanbul

Finished August 28
Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin, translated by John W. Baker

This historical fiction novel is set before and during World War II. It centers around two Turkish sisters, Sabiha and Selva. They are the daughters of Fazil Reşat Paşa, one of the last Ottoman pashas, educated well, and raised to be enlightened. Sabiha, the oldest, does what is expected of her, marries Macit, a young man of good background who has a promising government job as a member of the general staff working in foreign affairs under President Inõnü. 
Selva is more intelligent, the pride of her father, and knows her own mind. When she falls for a young man from a good family, Rafael Alfandári the problem is that he is Jewish. Both families are opposed, but Selva is determined. Once her family realizes that she won't do what they want, they agree to a civil marriage, but Fazil cuts her out of his life. Feeling ostracized, the young couple decide to start their lives in Paris, But when the Nazis move in, their situation becomes dangerous. They move to Marseilles where Rafo puts his money into a chemist shop where he also works, and Selva gives English and piano lessons. But their situation becomes more difficult, and now they have a child to consider as well, young Fazil, named for his grandfather. 
Back in Turkey, Sabiha is very worried about her sister, trying to get Macit to intervene in some way, pleased when Tarik Arica, the young man from the diplomatic corps she has been tutoring in French gets a posting in Paris, hoping he can do what her husband Macit seems unable to and bring Selva home. The two sisters' stories work together to bring the real history of this time to life. We see the Turkish diplomats in Ankara, Paris, Vichy, and Germany working to save their citizens from all religious backgrounds, looking back at their long history of tolerance, and trying to stay neutral to keep their own country safe. We see the plight of other Jews in France as well, and how some of their histories entwine with those of the Turks. 
A good read that will have your emotions involved with these characters. 

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