Review - The Oracle of Stamboul

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul: A NovelThe Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Harper, 304 p, Isbn-0062012096

Synopsis: 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?

My thoughts - There's no doubt the author knows how to create an authentic backdrop for his story. The cities, the atmosphere, the intrigue are all realistic and you can almost see the fireworks exploding or feel the people plotting. But that's all that's great about this book.

The suspenseful build-up leads to an absolute anti-climax. Frankly, the dismal ending made me wonder what was the point of the whole novel. Also I could also never really get a hang of the characters nor feel any empathy for them. I felt like I was getting a cold, clinical overview rather than an intimate portrait. The protagonist has been depicted a bit more in detail, and again I could never really feel any close connection to her.

The huge Ottoman empire is central to the story and not enough background is provided to make a reader understand what's the conflict all about, the history behind it. And since the regional conflict is a big part of hte background, I'd have really appreciated if a map or two of the region at that time had been provided. For, that would have helped give it a geographical clarity sorely lacking.

I really wanted to like this book, but unfortunately I can't say I did.

Other stops on this book tour :
Thursday, February 10th: One Girl Collecting
Thursday, February 10th: Confessions of a Rambling Mind
Thursday, February 10th: Booksie's Blog
Friday, February 11th: We Be Reading
Monday, February 14th: Living Read Girl
Monday, February 14th: Life is Short. Read Fast.

Note - This book was received for review/feature consideration.
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9 People said

  1. I'm sorry that this book didn't work for you but thank you for sharing your thoughts as part of the book tour.

  2. First I've heard of this book. I suspect I might like it, even if just for the descriptions. Would like to read it.

  3. Wow, it's nice to read a negative review on here. Usually when I read blogs all they do is write how amazing the book was. Knowing you actually give negative review makes me value your opinion more. Sounds like an interesting backdrop at least. But the thing you critiqued the most was the characters which I always think is the most important part of the story. Anyways, nice review.

  4. Heather - you're still the best!

    Sheila - if you do read it, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

    Tori - good to know :)

  5. First I've heard of this book. I suspect I might like it, even if just for the descriptions. Would like to read it.


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