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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"The Oracle of Stamboul"

by Michael David Lukas, AF, 2011, 300p, rating=4
Advance Reader's Edition

"Late in the summer of 1877, a flock of purple-and-white hoopoes suddenly appears over the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, 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 spends her early years daydreaming and doing housework—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. Eleonora'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 is to be made of the eccentric, charming Sultan Abdulhamid II himself, beleaguered by friend and foe alike as his unwieldy, multiethnic empire crumbles?" (book's blurb)
Wow, that blurb pretty much tells the whole story and very enticing!  But of course the fun is reading it for yourself to find out the prose and such.  Well, it was like I took a ride on a magical carpet to the once Ottoman Empire.  There was no doubt Mr. Lukas can write.  His descriptive vocabulary was excellent and non-hindering.  This time around I could not ignore it so for that reason and overall originality of the story that I gave high marks in rating. 

What a tantalizing storyline.  Eleanora, the protagonist, was quite an amazing eight year old!  But of course she was, after all, she might be the one prophesied to be the oracle of Stamboul.  Also, being a savant of some sort gave her extraordinary skills that proved to be amazing.  So much so that she attracted the sultan and came to be a consequential advisor.  Between that and a guarded family life, made for quite a lot to handle at such a young age.  Hence, that was part of what was sketchy for me.  Particularly the sultan's impetuous reliance on her.  Way too much!  It's no wonder the ending came to be what it ended up to be.

The subject of historical politics isn't my cup of tea but the gripping story, excellent writing, and exotic setting got me to finish this book.  Although there were some unanswered questions and shady moments, the mysteriousness worked for me this time.  Accordingly, this was an overall strong debut book.  So if you want Oriental color, this is the book for you.

Oh, I don't think I need to read The Hourglass by J. L. Borges.  Mr. Lukas reference it so much that it's like you get two books in one!  Plus, it's a poetic book and you know that poetry and I don't get along ...sad, I know.

By the way, I want to thank Harper Collins Publishers for sending me this advance reader's edition.  I had won it from Goodread's First Reads giveaway program.  ~Thank you Ms. Plafsky.  I enjoyed the read.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a lovely review. "The Oracle of Stamboul" entices. Hub and I rode the ferry from Odessa to Istanbul, stayed in a hotel overlooking the Bosporus. Yes, I'm sure I'd enjoy this book!


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