Review: Ayşe Kulin – Last Train to Istanbul

17779550This was a beautiful and uplifting tale of love and family and the ties that hold us together.

The story took quite a while to get going, we are introduced to Selva and Sabiha, two sisters from Muslim Turkey, who are about as alike as cats and dogs. Sabiha has always been jealous of Selva, but when Selva decides to defy her parents and marry a Jewish man, she is cut off from her family without a second though. She decides to move with her husband to France to be away from both their disapproving families, but it soon becomes clear that it might have been a mistake when France is occupied by the Nazi Germans.

Once the book got going, the tension was palpable, and you felt all the heartbreak, trepidation and fear felt by the characters. The risks that some of the took to save their fellow countrymen and friends made you wish more than anything for their safe journey.

Although the train journey itself was the most thrilling part of the book, I did very much enjoy the first part of the book where we find out more about family ties and the structure that holds the family together. I do think that we possibly spent a bit too much time stuck inside Sabiha’s head, but it did make sense I guess. I would have preferred to have more of Selva’s thoughts and fears though.

Although the book wasn’t based on real-life characters, the plot about the Turkish government rescuing it’s citizens on trains from France was based on real life events. I found it to be quite heart-breaking that these things could need to happen. And the stories of some of the citizens on board the train really wanted to break my heart.

The only negative I have was not of the book, but of the audio book. The narrator of the audiobook made a valiant attempt to do the accents, but they came off sounds incredibly dodgy, especially the women. It made me want to laugh out loud, I’d much rather they used an actual woman (turkish or not) for the voices.

Considering I only decided to read this book because the cover caught my eye, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and I would definitely recommend it. As I said before, it takes a while for the story to get going, but it’s definitely worth sticking with it!

4/5

Review: A. J. Jacobs – The Year of Living Biblically

20140531-220146-79306212.jpgI decided to read this book as a bit of an impulse. When I joined the library, I was looking around to see what kind of books they had, and I took a look at their religious section. This one kind of jumped out at me, it looked like an interesting concept: a guy decides that he’s going to spend an entire year living to the rules in the Bible. I couldn’t help but pick it up and see what it was all about!

Obviously some rules are easier to keep than others: Thou shall not kill for one. But things like not cutting your beard, not sitting in a seat after a woman has done so during her ‘unclean’ time of the month and not wearing clothes of mixed fibres are slightly more difficult to stick to.

As expected, I found the book to be quite funny, but mainly I found it very insightful. During his quest, he decides to talk to as many people as he can, from the neighbourhood Rabbi to the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the extremely evangelical Christian groups of Southern America, it was very interesting to see the many different ways that the Bible can be interpreted, and how people use the same verse to justify wildly different behaviour.

I loved the way that the author fully immersed himself in the journey, tackling the harder parts as well as the easier ones. Starting the year as an agnostic, non-practicing Jew, the culture difference is immediately apparent, especially since he’s having to drag his wife and young son along on the journey with him, and there are many times when you can sense that his wife is shaking her head and wondering what is the point.

By the end of the book, he is changed in ways that he might not have expected, and I think I was too. It’s quite easy to just disregard some of the rules in the Bible as being not applicable to this day and age, and to believe the hype that the Bible forbids homosexuality and other behaviour that is completely normal nowadays, but as A.J. finds out, verses of the Bible can be interpreted in different ways, and a lot of verses are almost certainly not supposed to be followed word-for-word.

I absolutely loved the book, although I found the ending slightly disappointing. We spend nine months of the year on the Old Testament and only three months on the New Testament. Granted, the Old Testament does contain more of the ‘rules’ and guides for life, but I felt that the New Testament section of the book was a little rushed and more like it was tacked on the end. I would have liked this part to be a little more fleshed out, but I can understand that as he was brought up in a Jewish family, the New Testament would not have been as comfortable to follow.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone, Christian or not. It’s an eye-opener, and you might just find yourself learning something and becoming more tolerant of other people.

5/5