Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Last Train to Istandbul by Ayşe Kulin. Translated by John W. Baker

Historical fiction, family relationships, Turkey, France, WWII, based on a true story
Edition language: English
Kindle edition: 442 pages Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) - uncorrected proof, from NetGalley.
Other formats: Hard cover, paperback, audiobook
ISBN-10: 1477807616
Original title: Nefes Nefese
First publish - 2002 in Turkish; 
Translated and published in English - 2006 by John W.Baker.(Everest Yayınları publishers)
Kindle edition published by: AmazonCrossing
Published date: 2013 October, 8th
Purchase link: Amazon

Last Train to Instanbul
has been translated into 16 languages.

Amazon book blurb:
International bestseller by one of Turkey’s most beloved authors. 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 and begin rounding up Jews, 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.


Istandbul, Ankara, Paris, Germany, Egypt 1941

"Spring arrived hand-in-hand with sorrow". Turkey was between a rock and a hard place. Britain demanded them to become an ally; Germany was threatening; Russia wanted Kars, Ardahan, the Bosphorus, and the Dardanelles. Choosing the losing side would have had dire consequences for Turkey. They learnt their lesson well after the first world war.

It was not only a unsettling time for Turkey, but also for Macit Bey. His wife, Sabiha, a girl who loved picnics and watching horse racing, suddenly turned away from life, as well as her motherly - and marriage duties.  Their daughter, Hülya, did not receive any attentions from her anymore. She was obviously heading for a nervous breakdown, Macit thought. 

Fazil Resat Pasa, and his wife Leman Hanim, had two daughters: 
Sabiha, married to Macit Bey
Selva, married to Rafael Alfandari(Rafo).
Sabiha and Macit had a daughter, Hülya.
Selva and Rafo had a son, Fazil, named after his grandfather, Fazil.

However, grandfather Fazil did not care. Rafo was Jewish, and his marriage to Selva ripped both families apart.  Fazil, the Muslim patriarch,  rejected his daughter, and Rafo's Jewish family refused to accept Selva.

The couple fled to France where they hoped to start a new life - both as exiles of their families.

Hitler's rise brought fear to all the countries. Turkey's idea of remaining neutral still did not guarantee the inhabitants piece of mind. What it did offer to the citizens though, was a last train out of France for Turkish citizens, especially the Jewish ones. Selva and her baby were compromised by Rafo when all the Jews were rounded up to concentration camps. When in doubt, men were forced to drop their pants in public to identify Jews. Escape was hardly possible. 

The incredible courage of the Turkish embassy staff, especially the actions of Macit and his friend, Taril, originally from Makatya in eastern Anatolia, lead to the evacuation of a large number of people out of harms way. A nine-day train ride back to Istandbul would become a journey through madness and mayhem and a discovery of true courage and intentions. 

Freedom and love had to survive incredible odds in the ensuing challenges brought forward by the German's occupation of France. It becomes a tale of hardship, friendship, loyalty, and love between spouses, sisters, parents and children. Most of all it is a test for religious hypocrisy and the true meaning of forgiveness.

The involvement of Turkey, and the important role the country played in the war, have not been spotlighted in any popular renditions of the events and certainly makes this book a valuable contribution to history. The historical facts are detailed; the characters, complex - but endearing; the narrative, easy. The tale is multilayered, supported by a well-developed plot, underscored by a wealth of different emotions, and based on a true story. Everything in the book is intense and actually beautiful!

I recommend this book to anyone who values the principles of honor, integrity, and innocence in both the story as well as the writing style.

Ayşe Kulin graduated in literature from the American College for Girls in Arnavutköy. She released a collection of short stories titled Güneşe Dön Yüzünü in 1984. A short story from this called Gülizar was made into a film titled Kırık Bebek in 1986, for which she won a screenplay award from the Turkish culture ministry. Kulin worked as a screen writer, cinematographer and producer for many films, television series and advertisements. In 1986, she won the Best Cinematographer Award from the Theatre Writers association for her work in the television series Ayaşlı ve Kiracıları.

In 1996, she wrote a biography of Münir Nureddin Selçuk titled Bir Tatlı Huzur. With a short story 

called Foto Sabah Resimleri she won the Haldun Taner Short Story Award the same year and the Sait Faik Story Prize the next year. In 1997, she was chosen as the "Writer of the year" by the İstanbul Communication Faculty for her biographical novel Adı Aylin, She won the same award the next year for her short story Geniş Zamanlar. In November 1999, she wrote a novel called Sevdalinka about the Bosnian War and in 2000, a biographical novel called Füreyya. In June 2001, she put out a novel titled Köprü about drama in Turkey's eastern provinces and how they shaped the republic's early history.

In May 2002, Kulin wrote a novel titled Nefes Nefes'e about the Turkish diplomats who saved in the lives of Jews during the holocaust in World War 2.

She has married twice, her latest novels Hayat and Huzun describe her life with her spouses, Mehmet Sarper and Eren Kemahli. Both ended in divorce but she bore 4 sons from the marriages.
(Information source:Wikipedia)

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