I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
Leonard Durso’s Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights is a contemporary reimagining of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, Romeo & Juliet, that takes place in Istanbul. With a cast of characters from across the globe, they struggle to find a way through the trials and tribulations of romantic involvement, hindered by their own unique cultural differences.
I had to give myself a few days between finishing Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights and writing up my review, mostly because I couldn’t quite decide what I thought about it. Some aspects I really enjoyed, while others frustrated me slightly.
Starting with the positives, I definitely enjoyed the writing style! The prose was very well thought out, at times feeling almost like poetry. It is quite clear that every word has been thought through, and nothing was left to chance. It was really easy to get lost inside this very colourful canvas, I just kept turning the pages, one after the other, without really realising how much I was reading in a single session.
At the same time, this book is very original and peculiar in its narration. We follow a varied set of characters, all in some way related to a college in Istanbul, their stories seamlessly blending one into the other. I’m not sure whether this was due just to the formatting of the ARC I had, and so may not be an issue in the final version, but it was at times incredibly difficult to keep up with the cast: a few times, I struggled in understanding whom we were talking about, mostly because I couldn’t always tell when a certain character’s part had finished and a new one started. This was quite annoying, and it meant that I had to go back and reread certain passages to understand who was doing what.
Speaking of characters, they are another aspect I had a sort of love/hate relationship with. I enjoyed the diversity of the cast, and I did think that, for the space each of them was granted, we got quite a good glimpse of their personalities, backgrounds and feelings. Having such a big cast, however, also meant that each of them had very limited time for growth and development. As a result, a good number of characters actually felt only like “extras” there for background and number, but not really making any significant contributions; and while some evolved significantly as the story progressed, others seemed to only represent a “type”, and they carried out that role for the whole book.
Perhaps the main character, and the most developed one, is the city of Istanbul itself. We are exposed to the city during the days and nights of a whole academic year, learning every person’s favourite spots, and the immense diversity of this city between two continents. After reading this book, I definitely feel like visiting Istanbul. Also, I craved Turkish food ALL. THE. TIME. There is a lot of cooking and eating going on here, and the descriptions of the meals are just perfect.
I personally found the blurb to be slightly misleading, and struggled to see this book as a modern retelling of Romeo & Juliet. Sure, that is the plot device used to bring characters together, as they work on exactly this kind of play for their college, but I failed to see it in the bigger picture. Sure, there are many unlucky romances, but that didn’t exactly justify the comparison for me. This is more a book on life, with its joys and disappointments, some happy endings and some not-so-happy ones, but mostly the need to challenge ourselves, follow our dreams and ensure we make some good friends along the way to share all our most important moments with.
Definitely a solid read, but one that had just one too many issues to make it perfect for me. You’ll probably like this book if you enjoy unconventional storytelling and don’t need to get too attached to the characters in order to feel invested in their story. Make sure you have easy access to a Turkish restaurant or a friend with great cooking skills throughout, otherwise you might endure unnecessary suffering!