Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Copyright 2011
Harper Perennial - Historical Fiction
294 pages

The Oracle of Stamboul is the story of young Eleonora Cohen. Born during a fierce battle in Constanta (a city on the Black Sea), in 1877, baby Eleonora's mother only has time to utter her name before tragically dying. But the two Tartar midwives who delivered her stay to help the newly widowed father, Yacob, until the baby's aunt arrives to help. As young Eleonora grows, it quickly becomes obvious that she is a savant. Aunt and stepmother Ruxandra believes Eleonora's brilliance will only cause undue attention and prevent her from finding a husband, so she teaches the girl to keep house and strictly limits her reading material.

When Yacob must travel by boat to Stamboul to sell his surplus carpets, Eleonora stows away. Then tragedy strikes. In Stamboul, the young prodigy finds a teacher and a surrogate parent, a hidden hallway and intrigue. Her world begins to open up, yet she is still sheltered. When her abilities become known, Eleonora finds herself in the unusual position of charming a sultan. But, is being a well-known genius too much for a little girl? What will happen when Eleonora is forced to choose between a comfortable but restrictive life and her heart's desire?

Wow. What a beautiful story. Anyone who reads my blog regularly probably knows I'm not the fastest reader on the block. But, only the fact that I had to sleep kept me from reading The Oracle of Stamboul in a single day. It is absolutely magical, a tale so gloriously descriptive that I wanted to climb right into Eleonora's world. I loved Eleonora, her father, her surrogate parent (I'm being a little shifty, here -- trying not to give too much away) and appreciated the fact that there was plenty of conflict and a couple mildly villainous characters without any threat to her innocence.

Eleonora is a lovely child, level-headed and thoughtful. I loved how the two extremely kind and steady adults in her life guided her in a way that allowed her to make a crucial decision, in the end. And, of course, I loved the richness of the setting.

I was a little thrown, at first, by both the location and its history. I looked up "Constanta" and "Stamboul," assuming the two cities were probably the city once known as Constantinople and Istanbul. It was pretty late at night when I looked up the two cities, but the author's notes at least confirmed the latter. I know very little about Turkey, apart from what I was told by a friend who used to live there, and certainly next to nothing about its history. But, I found The Oracle of Stamboul was pretty easy to follow as long as I didn't try too hard to place the story in proper historical context. I just didn't know enough to fully understand the politics, although the setting was vivid and doubly easy to visualize with a little help from Google Images.

Politics and setting aside, the tale is really about Eleonora, a fish out of water so fiercely intelligent that the adults around her feel obligated to shelter her. There are some mystical touches to the story. A flock of birds stays with Eleonora wherever she goes. The Tartar midwives are led to her home at the time of her birth by various signs and claim she's been chosen to change the world, to restore it to its proper axis.

Since Eleonora is a prolific reader, it's fun to read about the many books she gobbles down. I found myself a little envious of the fictional Eleonora, wishing I could read, digest and remember a fraction of what she reads during her first 8 years of life.

An absolutely breathtaking book, highly recommended. I had a tiny bit of trouble getting into The Oracle of Stamboul, at first (for about the first 15-20 pages) because of my ignorance about the setting, but it didn't take long till I was completely sucked in and found it unbearable to set the book aside. The Oracle of Stamboul will definitely go on my list of favorites for 2011.

Many thanks to TLC Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Love the cover and the title. Great review, Nancy; you really caught my interest!

  2. Jenclair,

    It does have a beautiful cover, doesn't it? After I read the book, I realized it honestly didn't have much of a plot, but it didn't matter. It's the kind of book you read for the experience - the gorgeous narrative and setting, in particular.

  3. I have been curious about this book for a while. I am glad you enjoyed it so much!

  4. Kelly,

    I actually passed up an opportunity to read Stamboul as an ARC and then regretted it when a blogger/book group friend mentioned that it's one of her favorites, so far in 2011. So glad I jumped at the chance to review for TLC. I loved it. It's the kind of book you'd like to see made into a movie for the sake of seeing the scenery on a big screen.

  5. Well, I'm very intrigued. I'm off to add it to my list of books to read. My very LONG list. ;)

  6. Jenny,

    I can relate. I've been known to call my list my "wish brick". It's pretty heavy.

  7. Nice review! I loved this book, too.

  8. What a wonderful review! You have been masterful lately (not that you are ever NOT) and I also think the cover is gorgeous. Looks like a good GOOD read. Noted.

  9. Carrie,

    Why, thank you, dear. Isn't that a gorgeous cover? And, yes, it's a very good read. I think if you don't understand the political/historical atmosphere, it's best just to allow those bits to sink into the background and focus on Eleonora's life. I've heard some people have trouble getting into it and I'm willing to bet their problem was the same as mine, or similar, but I just managed to talk myself into not letting the parts that went over my head stop me. Once you let go of that, it's just pure fun to immerse yourself in story and setting.

    Babble, babble. LOL I got a lens for my camera and I've been out taking pics! Kinda tired and hot, now, and I tend to rattle on when I'm tired, sorry. :)

  10. Anonymous8:53 PM

    "only the fact that I had to sleep kept me from reading The Oracle of Stamboul in a single day." Ooh, what a glowing recommendation! I'm so glad you enjoyed this one.

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  11. Heather,

    Seriously. It pained me to sleep! LOL I loved Oracle! Thanks so much for the opportunity to review it!

  12. Curses on you!! Just when I was content with the 113 books on my TBR list, you have to go and add another one. This looks and sounds fantastic. Great review...

    BTW, I am headed to Mississippi the 2nd week of October. What does the fashionable blogger wear then?? Will it be cool? Will there be hurricanes? Do tell.

  13. PS..I'll be in Biloxi to see our Airman and his wife!

  14. This sounds amazing! It's added to my wishlist already :-) I really love books where you can also learn about the history and culture of a country you're not very familiar with!

  15. Gaye,

    Normally, I'd say expect something on the order of 70's to 80's around the first of October, but we had a stunningly early cool front so I'd just keep a sharp eye on the weather for the two weeks prior to heading this way. It could do *anything*. We could have a cool spell (probably no colder than 60's), a resumption of summery weather (but not killer hot), a week of pouring rain or blissful sunshine.

    November is the last month of hurricane season and usually there's not much activity because of cooling in the Gulf, but it's still worth watching the weather news, just in case! Yay for visiting your airman!!!

    As to the book . . . well, I can't help it if I'm a troublemaker. Oracle really did sweep me away. :)


    Me, too. I don't know that I learned all that much about the history because it seemed to go over my head, but sometimes just having your curiosity piqued is enough to get you out there requesting more books so you can learn a bit more. I love that, don't you?


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