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From the Publisher
Gerhard and Elsa face challenges settling in, but their daughter, Susy, was born and raised in Istanbul, this “city of surprises and unexpected beauty, a city that made one grateful to be alive.” Through the novel, we experience not only the trials of adapting to a new culture but also the delights of discovery. Watching her grow up speaking Turkish in school, surrounded by Muslim friends, we fully understand why Susy considers herself more a Turk than a Jew. But how can one family contain such multitudes, with language, religion, and nationality pulling them apart?
In today’s world of mass migration and conflicting views on immigration, it is fascinating to look back on the Jewish diaspora and to see how this family evolves. This beautiful saga offers lessons in compassion and grace in an ever-changing world.
- Gabriella Page-Fort, Editor
About the Author
One of Turkey’s most beloved authors, with more than ten million copies of her books sold, Ayşe Kulin is known for captivating stories about human endurance. In addition to penning internationally bestselling novels, she has also worked as a producer, cinematographer, and screenwriter for numerous television shows and films. Last Train to Istanbul, winner of the European Council Jewish Community Best Novel Award and the Premio Roma in Italy, has been translated into twenty-three languages.
- ASIN : B075WX4R2R
- Publisher : Amazon Crossing (July 1, 2018)
- Publication date : July 1, 2018
- Language : English
- File size : 4093 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 324 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #98,706 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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What really drew me into the book was the setting of Turkey as it's not a country that is usually represented in WW2 historical fiction. It was almost like a character itself because so much of what was going on in the country affected the actions of other characters. And while only part of the book takes place during the war, the author did a fine job in showing how relevant that time period is even in today's times.
I really enjoyed watching this family throughout the years as they dealt with heartache, love, and betrayal and all the other stuff one experiences in life. They might have all been related by blood but each person forged their own unique path in life.
My only real complaint about the book is I thought there was one story line that had too much of a soap opera quality to it. It felt unnecessary and added just for drama's sake.
Would recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction and/or family dramas.
Overall, the book makes a lukewarm attempt at being written in the style of a saga, as it haphazardly covers the family and its descendants from 1933, up until 2016. The Jewish German doctor and his wife hold on to their German heritage while raising their two children in Turkey, but the children each grow up with different ideas of what their own identity is. Peter their son, is comfortable as a German Jew and later goes to study and live in America. Suzi their daughter identifies as Turkish from a very early age, much to the dismay of her mother and indifference of her father. She later marries a Muslim childhood friend and proudly expresses her Turkish identity, since it's the only country she's ever known. Suzi's daughter, Sude, is neither here nor there. She is a free spirit who travels the world at every turn, living an unattached bohemian, new age lifestyle. Sude's daughter Esra, becomes a doctor but struggles to see how she fits into the legacy of her family and the chaos of a changing Turkey and changing world.
I mention all this simply to point out that the author covers a lot of ground, and a lot of history. The history of not only the family, but also of the country of Turkey. Even though the book covers a wide span of time and multiple generations, the plot is surprisingly simplistic and sometimes dull. I felt the book read more as a melodrama with occasional familial disagreements, rather than a sweeping, multi-generational saga that had a profound lesson to impart on the reader. There's a lot of relocating around between cities in Turkey, odd couples fall in love, stubborn babies are born, plenty of eating, and a lot of admiring of the Turkish landscape. Thrown in once in a while are riots, coups, and political unrest which several of the characters get entangled in, but not entangled enough to make you feel worried for their safety. Annoyingly, the beginning chapters are plenty and very short, which I found distracting because so much was being told in short spurts, but it wasn't anything exciting or major. Despite this though, the first half of the book was enjoyable and I liked the earlier time frame of the parents and their young children.
Where the book lost me was the later third, when it changed narrative from third person to first person, in the perspective of Esra, the great-granddaughter of the original characters Gerhard and Elsa. Perhaps it was because the time frame changed from historic to the present day, or perhaps it was because the story was now being told from the perspective of a millennial who doesn't know their a*s from the elbow. Regardless of why, I was annoyed and I stopped caring. This later third of the book also felt rushed and was under developed. I had become attached to Gerhard and Elsa, who both matured and were developed as the book progressed. All of a sudden, their whiny great-granddaughter was telling me about some insipid red dress and her war correspondent lover who wants to write a book of photographs. Again, the author tried to cover a lot of ground, without really sinking her heels in and without developing anything substantial. I got to the end of the book and shook my head because it was trite and devoid of anything meaty. At the very end, the author attempted to come full circle, but instead of doing it boldly with a surprise, the story wimped out and fell flat. A book that started so well telling the story of smart, hardworking intellectuals, ends with an indecisive millennial chasing a potential broken heart. I was not impressed.
On a positive note, one thing that I think the author did well and that I liked was the descriptions of the Turkish landscape and atmosphere. The sea, the Mediterranean, ruins, and sunsets are described beautifully and I could sometimes feel the scenes based on the descriptions alone. I also liked the author's attempt at showing what individuals go through when as one character puts it, "people confuse nationality and religion." The author also did a good job trying to show that children rarely follow the footsteps of their parents, as they try to light their own path outside of the shadow of the generation that came before them.
The book's idea and the attempt to tell this story was valiant, but the result just was not gripping. Instead of trying to tell a multi-generational story in only 319 pages, I would have preferred a more focused story on one generation. The unique story of Gerhard and Elsa fleeing Germany with their two young children was enough. I didn't really care for the book's turn to tell the story of the grandchild and great-grandchild as adults. Perhaps I missed the point of the book, but at the end, I felt no attachment to it. I actually think the characters indeed had a county, they unfortunately could not reconcile what the country's purpose was as it relates to their own identity. Gerhard and Elsa figured this out. Their daughter Suzi, granddaughter Sude, and great-granddaughter Esra did not.
Top reviews from other countries
The book takes us through many of the big events of 20th Century Turkish history but in a way that's rather forced. The biggest fault I found was that none of the characters are very well developed and I often found myself forgetting just which character I was supposed to be reading about. The author has tried to squeeze too many people into too few pages, and it feels like the price she paid was detail, colour and flavour. I don't know if it's the translation that's poor or the original writing style, but it's all rather turgid and a bit 'he did this then she did that and he said this and she said that'. Factual perhaps but not very stylish.
I was aware that there's a long history of Jewish people living in Istanbul - I used to visit a company in the city for work which was run by a Jewish family - so that part wasn't a surprise. Neither was the inevitable juxtaposition of prejudices past and present. The problem for me was that I found it really hard to 'care' too much about the characters.
Spanning the years from pre second World War to modern day, this follows the lives of a Jewish German family who escape Hitler's Germany and take up a residence in Turkey. The story revolves around the struggles that they have being fully accepted as Turks and the pull of the heart strings back to their native Germany. Strong characters, beautifully written and delighted that I took a chance on this one. Think I have discovered a new author to follow. Thank you Ayse Kulin.
Was she trying to emulate 'Birds without Wings', that superb book about Turkey by Louis de Berniere?