After spending time in 1950s Tangier with Tangerine (see previous review), I decided to head further east and go back another thirty years to explore 1920s Istanbul with Lucy’s Foley’s third novel, Last Letter from Istanbul.
1921. Each day Nur gazes across the waters of the Bosphorus to her childhood home, a grand white house, nestled on the opposite bank. Memories float on the breeze the fragrance of the fig trees, the saffron sunsets of languid summer evenings. But now those days are dead.
The house has been transformed into an army hospital, it is a prize of war in the hands of the British. And as Nur weaves through the streets carrying the embroideries that have become her livelihood, Constantinople swarms with Allied soldiers a reminder of how far she and her city have fallen.
The most precious thing in Nur’s new life is the orphan in her care a boy with a terrible secret. When he falls dangerously ill Nur’s world becomes entwined with the enemy’s. She must return to where she grew up, and plead for help from Medical Officer George Monroe.
As the lines between enemy and friend become fainter, a new danger emerges something even more threatening than the lingering shadow of war.
Set during the occupation of Istanbul by allied forces after the First World War, Last Letter from Istanbul tells its story from alternating viewpoints. Those of Nur, a local evicted from her family home and now living with her mother and grandmother in a far less desirable district; the young boy who has been taken in by Nur; George, the army doctor, whose hospital occupies Nur’s former home; and two unnamed characters in the Traveller and the Prisoner. It becomes clear who they are as the novel progresses.
It takes a while for these strands to come together, but once they do, the story envelops you. It’s as if one of Nur’s embroidered shawls wraps around you, bundling you into the story alongside her. Lucy Foley brings the sights, smells and sounds of Istanbul to life in her writing and evokes an impression of what it was like to be there at this moment in the city’s history; a period I didn’t know much about before reading. Read more