Friday, February 11, 2011

New Release: The Oracle of Stamboul

Michael David Lukas' novel, The Oracle of Stamboul, is the extraordinary story of a young girl living in the Ottoman Empire in the late Victorian era. It's a simple, somewhat cozy read that is nevertheless thought-provoking and fuels a desire to learn about the interesting city of Stamboul and its history.

Eleonora Cohen is born during a Russian attack on the city of Constanta (in Romania) and her arrival is surrounded by some strange signs, including a flock of purple hoopoe birds that takes up residence outside her home and follows her wherever she goes. Her mother dies in childbirth and her aunt moves in and marries her father. Eleonora turns out to be something of a prodigy, learning to read and do sums at a very early age. Her aunt, Ruxandra, is not supportive of her learning and demands that she hide her gifts from the world. Under this oppression, Eleonora dreams of escape and her chance comes when her father plans a trip to Stamboul to sell some of his textiles. She stows away in one of his trunks and embarks on a life-changing journey that leads to an audience with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

I rushed through this novel in two days. It has wonderful pacing and language and Eleonora is a charming young heroine. The characters around her are also quite engaging, including her host in Stamboul, the charming but fatherly Moncef Bey. This is a fascinating point in history -- the slow disintegration of a once all-powerful empire. The character of Sultan Abdulhamid II was intriguing and I would love to learn more about him at some point.

The purple-and-white hoopoe flock plays an important role in the story and so, of course, I looked them up. They are usually solitary birds who live in Europe, Asia and Africa and they have a bending-wing movement like a butterfly when they fly. They are the national bird of Israel and the state bird of Punjab, India. They are mentioned more than once in the Bible and have been used by many cultures as symbols of such varying things as virtue and death. The flock in this story seem to be a combination of guardians and scouts. They also seem to be companions for Eleanor as she journeys toward her destiny.

This story has a touch of magical realism but it is basically the tale of an extraordinary child whose talents lead her to become entangled in a critical point in history. It's the sort of novel that has you impatiently waiting for the author's next offering.

Consulting the oracle,

This book is currently on a TLC Book Tour. You can see other reviews at the following sites:

One Girl Collecting
Confessions of a Rambling Mind
Booksie's Blog
A Book Blogger's Diary
Living Read Girl
Life is Short. Read Fast.

Other reviews will be linked up at the tour page over the next month and a half.

Support our site and buy The Oracle of Stamboul on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received an advance reader's edition from the publisher.


  1. I love it when I find a book that I just CAN.NOT put down - it sounds like this was that kind of book for you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it as much as you did. Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  2. I only read a few pages of this book and then was distracted by other things - it sounds like I should get back to it. Thanks for the review!

  3. Did you get the feeling more books were forthcoming? When I was five-sixths of the way through the book and realized it wasn't resolving in a dramatic way, I assumed it would be the first of two or three books about Eleonora. But when the real end came I didn't feel so sure.

  4. I was hoping you'd show a photo of the bird! How interesting looking. And I love that cover.

  5. Heather - This was that sort of book for me. The time just flew by while I was reading!

    l.l. - I hope you do get back to it soon. :)

    Jenny - The ending seemed pretty final although I would love to know what was next for her. I don't know if I ever got the feeling that it would be a series though.

    Jenners - I couldn't find a purple and white one so I'm guessing that the author imagined them. I want to see these birds in real life now!

  6. This went straight into my wishlist. I just came from Istanbul yesterday. It’s the 2nd time I’ve been there and it confirmed it as my favorite European city.

    One of my objectives for this year is to read a lot about the city in its different incarnations: Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul. Thanks for flagging this!

  7. Alexandra - Lucky! Every time I read about Istanbul I want to go there. I have yet to start my world travels but this will be a destination that I can't miss.