Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Last Train to Istanbul” as Want to Read:
Last Train to Istanbul
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Last Train to Istanbul

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  21,804 ratings  ·  1,592 reviews
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.

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, 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.

Paperback, 374 pages
Published October 8th 2013 by Amazon Crossing (first published 2002)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  21,804 ratings  ·  1,592 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Last Train to Istanbul
Natalia Pì
Finished. Finally! I say finally because it took me too long due to a busy period...
It also took me long because, well, it's a very interesting story, but I must also say, it's not very well written. Or maybe it's a matter of translation? I can't read Turkish, so I'll never find out. I must say, though, that the editor - who is thanked in the final pages of the book - really didn't do a good job, there are so many tiny mistakes in language that got to me very much, in a 460-page book. Mayb
Advanced Reader's Copy(ARC) - uncorrected proof - from NetGalley.
Pages: 442


Istandbul, Ankara, Paris 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.
Sara M. Abudahab
It's definitely one of those books that are simply too good that you do not want them to end *sigh* I really want more!
the more you progress into the story the more you get emotionally attached, at the second half of the book I simply felt I was one of the passengers on the train...
If you're interested to know how the Germans treated Jews at the WW2 period or if you are interested in Turkish literature this book if for you.

Jan 30, 2015 rated it liked it
It's hard to review this book. The synopsis is rather incorrect because it misleads you to believe that this is mainly the story about a couple. But it's not. It's more a collection of stories about Turkish people and how WW2 and the Holocaust affected them. It's a different view that most Americans don't know about - how many of us even think of how that time period affected Turkey? The writing itself seems rather choppy, it doesn't flow that well. But I can't help but think that could be due t ...more
A wonderful book with lots of characters I cared for. Will discuss at Book Club tonight.

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin takes place prior to and during the first two years of WWII. It is a very informative historical fiction relating the empathy of Turkey to the Jews in this very dark period of history and before. In this story, we learn that Turkey took in Spanish Jews during the Inquisition after Ferdinand had thrown them out. This book centers on how Turkey aided Turkish and non-Turkish Jews wh
Norah Una Sumner
“Think carefully. We only have one life to live. We alone are responsible for it.”

The main theme of this book is amazing and heart-breaking but I just couldn't stand most of the characters and thought that Kulin portrayed them a bit too psychologically dramatic for my understandings. The writing, or it was maybe the Serbian translation of it, left me feeling uneasy and awkward at times. I just think that this book is probably just not my cup of tea. It would probably make a good movie, thou
Oct 28, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I would never have opened this book if it hadn’t been given to me by a good friend. I consider it my duty, then, to read it – but not to give it a good review, sorry friend. I knew I would have trouble when I was able to count seven clichés on pages 10-12 alone. That’s the translator’s fault, though. On the other hand, the problem of excessive exposition is the author’s. I go back and forth trying to find something positive to say… Young Tarık is a fairly interesting character, and the plot deal ...more
Jan 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
This is a great story, very poorly told. I was so interested in learning about Turkey's role in WWII and its treatment of Jews. I love both Istanbul and Paris, both featured in this book, however the writing is horrendous. It reads as if it was translated by someone with only sixth grade level English using a Turkish-English dictionary and a book of English language idioms and clichès. "Clickety-clack" goes the train down the track, for example. However, I don't think all the blame should lay at ...more
“After all is said and done, what is life anyway? Aren't we all going to die in the end? I believe life is only worth living if, while we’re on earth, we can do honorable things.”

“Last Train to Istanbul” is a phenomenal WWII novel set in Turkey and France, with one of the elements being a love story, and another being clandestine extractions of Jews via the Turkish government and foreign ministers aided by private citizens, from certain imprisonment/annihilation carried out by the Vichy as orde
Dec 26, 2014 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. It was a slow plot, with the synopsis not really starting till the middle, and sounding more adventurous than it was. None of the characters were incredibly likable, but were interesting and dynamic. It was interesting to see this perspective of WWII, especially from a culture so different than my own, and one often left out (unfortunately) of history books/classes (in my experience).
BOOK 10 - Around the World Read - Turkey
Given today's headlines concerning immigration, I thought Ayse Kulin's international, award-winning best-seller deserved a second read. In my original review in 2017, I stated I thought extended political conversations interrupted the flow of the novel. But now, today, that's what I want most to understand: the political implications of immigration, etc.
Turkish Jews, with assistance from the Turkish embassy in Paris, attempt to esc
1.75/5.00 stars

I really liked the subject of the novel. But this fact alone was not enough for me to give more than 1.75 stars. I have several reasons for my decision:
1. The translation. I haven't read a book with such a bad translation in a very long time! Knowing Turkish (albeit not good enough to read a whole novel) I usually could guess at the original sentence and this knowledge made the mistakes in translation seem more obvious to me. It appears that the translator has not a very go
Kavitha Sivakumar
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ir-armchair-2018
A wonderful read! The novel is set in World War II period when Jews suffered under Hitler's reign. The story starts in Istanbul with two sisters, siblings rivalry/jealousy, their aspirations, and insecurities. When Selva, the younger sister, decided to marry a Jew, family is rift apart and Sabiha, the older sister, is torn apart with guiltiness affecting her marriage life. Story then shift to Paris where Jews fall victims to the war atrocities. Fearing for Selva's husband's life, the family deci ...more
Phyu Hninn Nyein
Love this book. Set during World War II, this book describes the obstacles Jews had to overcome during the war and the graciousness of one nation and its citizens who tried to save them, interwoven with long traditions and beautiful love stories. Highly recommend to anyone who likes historical fiction.
Dec 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
Today, I finally finished this book. I swear, I feel like I started this book forever ago and right now, I’m just glad that it’s over. The only reason I continued through it is because it was an audiobook and I needed something to listen to on my commute.

Anyway, I selected the book because of the Goodreads description. I felt like it was going to be a gentle love story with touches of war related drama. Instead, it was a disjointed semi-love story involving what I considered to be a
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I very nearly abandoned this book, but I'm glad I stuck with it.

"Last Train to Istanbul" is the story of two privileged sisters, Sabiha and Selva, living in Istanbul. Sabiha follows her culture's expectations by marrying a man of the same faith and who has high ambitions within the new Turkish government. Selva follows her heart, marrying Rafael ... a Jewish man. Both Rafael and Selva are rejected by their families, and so they move to Paris where they will be more accepted.

The historical aspects covered by this novel makes reading this book worthwhile. I was not aware that the Ottoman empire based in Turkey opened her doors to the Spanish Jews in the 15th century so they could escape the persecution of the Catholic King Ferdinand II. Then in WWII Turkey was again instrumental in helping many Jews escape the persecution of Hitler's genocidal policies.

The culmination of the book is the escape of a 100 or so people on a train from Paris to Istanbul. The s
Laurel Hicks
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was somewhat lacking in style, but that could be the translation. Very interesting account of Turkish diplomats helping Jews from Turkey and other nations escape Paris during the Holocaust.
Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin is a family drama set in Turkey and France during World War II. The drama involves two sisters, Sabiha and Selva from a wealthy Muslim family. Sabiha remains in Ankara, Turkey with her husband Macit a career diplomat while Selva who has been disowned lives France with her Jewish husband, Rafael or Rafo.

As one can easily imagine things become ominous for Selva and her family. In this book we learn of the extraordinary measures which Turkey took to protect all o
The story begins in Ankara in 1941. Germany has begun its march against Europe, although Turkey is still a neutral country. Sabiha and Selva are daughters of a wealthy Turkish Muslim family living a rather carefree existence - of refined schools, elegant parties and social talk. But headstrong Selva falls in love with Rafael Alfamdari, son of a Jewish doctor. Much against her father's wishes she marries Rafo, suffers the consequences of her father's wrath and moves to Paris with Rafo to start a ...more
Mar 10, 2014 rated it liked it
This is an interesting story but not terribly well written though it might be more the fault of the translation...I can't tell which is the culprit. The premise is good in that the book is based on the role of the Turks in WWII and their willingness to remain neutral. In doing so they tried hard to protect their people (no matter what religious beliefs, e.g., Muslim or Jewish) as well as those (many Jews) who needed protection from the Germans. At the heart of this book is the interplay between ...more
Carol (Reading Ladies)
Picked this up from my unread shelf......I don’t think I’ll ever tire of WW 11 stories and the heroic efforts of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in difficult circumstances. I appreciated the new (to me) perspective of Turkey spiriting their Jewish citizens out of France and the grasp of the Gestapo. Even though the events of this story held some interest and engagement, I felt the writing, editing, and character development could have been better. The story jumped from event to event ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting account of a young couple during times of World war 2. Though it touches such a sensitive subject, there’s constant hope in the way story is narrated...through trials, tribulations and longing. I could hardly put the book down, despite super busy schedule. Must read!
The description for this novel is inaccurate, as it gives the impression this book is a romance. While there is the love story between a Muslim woman and Jewish man, both Turkish nationals, it takes back seat to the main story which is about how the Turkish conciliate helped many Jews escape occupied France during world war 2. Based on real life events, it is a story that was hard to put down.
My only criticism is to me sometimes the writing seemed choppy and there were a few inconsistencies tha
May 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
The second half of the book was much better than the first half.

This book is about the lives of two Turkish sisters, born in an aristocrat ottoman family who were raised mostly in the Republic of Turkey. The younger sister, Selva, marries a Turkish Jew, Raphael Alfandari, and emigrates to France with him, since both are rejected by their families as the result of their inter-faith marriage, that eventually leads the story to cover the sufferings of Jews in occupied France.

Regina Lindsey
Selva, the daughter of one of the Ottoman's last pasha's, has fallen in love with Rafael (Rafo) Alfandari, a Turkish Jew. As stubborn as her father, she rebels against his edict to stay away from and Rafo and instead marries him, forcing the two to flee to Paris in order to stave off the wrath of both families. Missed dearly by her sister, whose marriage to a Turkish diplomat gives her access to friends within the Turkish embassy in Paris, she help in some form from back home when Germany occupi ...more
Sep 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-fiction
I got a copy of this book from Netgalley to review.

I don't easily give 5 star reviews but I thought this book was a top historical novel. I call it a top historical novel because it sheds light on a piece of history that I did not know and works very well as a novel.

The book has two themes. The first theme is that it is about two sisters in an aristocratic Turkish family where one marries someone in the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the other marries a Turkish Jew and has
Surabhi Sharma
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-star
I drawn to this book when I read the cover says 'International Bestseller'. I become curious to know what makes it a bestseller internationally. I must say I loved this book. It is one of my favorite genre 'Historical Fiction'.

The story is set during those six years of dreadful history of WW2. Not only the story but the way the plot and the sub-plot of the story worked out is brilliant. This book can also work as a guidebook for authors and writers to understand the art of writing a
Vannetta Chapman
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book which was a free Amazon download on World Book Day.
The story details what Turkey did to save their Jewish citizens, and others who weren't their citizens, who were residing in France during WWII. Excellent details and an inspiring story.

I think the translation was a little wonky in places, and that may be why the personal plot of the story seemed a little overdone. The historical part was super.

Note: Probably not for young readers--war atrociti
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Diez mujeres
  • Amba: Sebuah Novel
  • The Great Passage
  • The Light of the Fireflies
  • Still Waters (Sandhamn, #1)
  • The House by the River
  • A River in Darkness:  One Man's Escape from North Korea
  • Дом, в котором...
  • The Storyteller's Secret
  • The Tuscan Child
  • The Ragged Edge of Night
  • De Amerikaanse prinses
  • Unhurried Tales: My Favourite Novellas
  • The Lioness of Morocco
  • About the Night
  • El murmullo de las abejas
  • A Castle in Romagna
  • The Snow Gypsy
See similar books…
Ayşe Kulin is a Turkish contemporary novelist and columnist.
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 wri
“Think carefully. We only have one life to live. We alone are responsible for it.” 9 likes
“After all is said and done, what is life anyway? Aren’t we all going to die in the end? I believe life is only worth living if, while we are on this earth, we can do honorable things.” 7 likes
More quotes…