Late in the summer of 1877, as Tsar Alexander II’s Royal Cavalry descends on the defenseless Ottoman outpost of Constanta, a flock of purple and white hoopoes suddenly appears over the town, and Eleonora Cohen is ushered into the world by a mysterious pair of Tartar midwives who arrive just minutes before her birth. “They had read the signs, they said: a sea of horses, a conference of birds, the north star in alignment with the moon. It was a prophecy that their last king had given on his deathwatch.” But joy is mixed with tragedy, for Eleonora’s mother dies soon after the birth.
Raised by her doting father Yakob, a carpet merchant, and her stern, resentful stepmother, Ruxandra, Eleonora’s early years are spent daydreaming and doing housework and avoiding the wrath of her stepmother—until the moment she teaches herself to read, and her father recognizes that she is an extraordinarily gifted child, a prodigy.
When Yakob sets off by boat for Stamboul on business, eight-year old Eleonora, unable to bear the separation, stows away in one of his trunks. On the shores of the Bosporus, in the house of her father’s business partner Moncef Bey, a new life awaits. Books, backgammon, beautiful dresses and shoes, markets swarming with color and life, the imperial capital overflows with elegance and mystery. For in the narrow streets of Stamboul—a city at the crossroads of the world—intrigue and gossip are currency, and people are not always what they seem. Eleanor’s tutor, an American minister and educator, may be a spy. The kindly though elusive Moncef Bey has a past history of secret societies and political maneuvering. And what to make of the eccentric though charming Sultan Abdulhamid II himself, beleaguered by friend and foe alike as his unwieldy, multi-ethnic Empire crumbles?
The Oracle of Stamboul is a marvelously evocative, magical historical novel that will transport readers to another time and place—romantic, exotic, yet remarkably similar to our own.
Lukas bring the exotic world of the Ottoman Empire to life, and captures the emotions and feelings of an exceptionally bright prepubescent girl who's experienced many challenges and turmoils, in his debut novel. It is a captivating read that draws you in; he makes it seem entirely plausible that a child could become wrapped up in political maneuverings and advise a Sultan.
You will find yourself swept up with Eleonora as events unfold that move toward an ending that's, at first, unexpected. For the longest time I wasn't sure where this intriguing story was going to ultimately lead, which is a good thing. Don't you just hate it when you've got everything figured out halfway through? Yet the ending is not surprising when you reflect on the unusual maturity, strength, and independence of Lukas' protagonist.
As someone unlikely to ever travel to Turkey, and equally unlikely to really experience day to day life in Istanbul the setting, customs, and traditions of this region were unfamiliar. Besides the captivating storyline, The Oracle of Stamboul is to be enjoyed equally for the experience of traveling without leaving your home. Lukas evocative narrative enables you to walk with Eleonora, her father, and Moncef Bay through the textile bazaars, breakfast on flatbread, honey, olives, and crumbly white cheese, walk through the palace garden, and peer through the latticework of the women's section. In the wintery snow of Michigan, such an escape was greatly appreciated!
Lukas' characters become like friends, and his strong female lead character, is a pleasure to meet. He leaves you wanting to know more about this unique girl. This is a well written novel, that flows seemly through the narrative, where you will meet complex characters and become facinated with this fantastic tale. This book would be a great for a book club, there's lots of "meat" to discuss and is also suitable for young readers wanting something with more depth than most of the ridiculous pulp normally churned out for them. I was really impressed with The Oracle of Stamboul and Michael David Lukas' mastery of the storytelling. He is definitely a talented new author to watch.
About the Author:
Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary scholar in Tunisia. He is a graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, and his writing has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, National Geographic Traveler, and the Georgia Review. Lukas lives in Oakland, less than a mile from where he was born. When he isn't writing, he teaches creative writing to third- and fourth-graders.
This title is part of a multi-blog tour that continues into March, other stops on this blog tour today are:
Tomorrow The Oracle of Stamboul will be featured on:
On Thursday the blog tour will continue at:
You can find the entire list of blogs on the book blog tour at TLC Book Tours and see a variety of reader's opinions along the way.
Disclosure: I'm reviewing this title as part of a blog book tour and received a copy of the book from Harper Collins. My personal opinions and experience with this book have not been affected by this relationship and this post reflects an unbiased review.