The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Eleonora Cohen is born in 1877 in Romania to her father, Yakob, and her mother who passes away immediately upon her birth. She is raised by Yakob and her stepmother, Ruxandra, and lives a perfectly normal and boring childhood until she teaches herself to read. This discovery causes Yakob to realize that Eleonora is brilliant, a child prodigy even, and he sets about trying to convince Ruxandra that she should be allowed an education. When Yakob travels to Stamboul to sell his carpets, Eleonora, distraught at the idea of being away from him for a month, stows away on the ship. Upon their arrival in Stamboul, Eleonora meets and stays with her father’s business partner, Moncef Bey, and is exposed to a whole new life, the likes of which she’d never before dared to dream of.
The Oracle of Stamboul starts out with a bang: Eleonora is born and Yakob, grieving at the death of his wife, brings in Ruxandra to help him care for his infant daughter. Eleonora is a precocious child, plucky and not happy doing the cooking and cleaning that Ruxandra would have her focus her attentions on all the time. Instead, Eleonora wants to spend her time curled up with a book, going on adventures through her reading, and she takes to sneaking books when Ruxandra limits her reading to one book per month.
I loved the imagery and evocativeness of the writing, especially when Yakob and Eleonora get to Stamboul. Lukas really created a sense of place, and I was more than happy to experience the sights, smells, and sounds with the two of them as they did.
Unfortunately, while I loved the character of Eleonora and the writing was very good, the rest of the novel didn’t work as well for me. After a pretty big event happens soon after they arrive in Stamboul, I expected the plot to propel like a jet engine from there, but it seemed to just sputter along. I was expecting a much different second half of this novel than what I got. Although I know that my expectations may have been to blame for my disappointment, I do feel that Lukas could have done something different with the novel. Either way, I had to slog through the last 100 pages or so and I just did not find it to be all that enjoyable.
While the imagery and characterization in The Oracle of Stamboul were done very well, the plot really left something to be desired, for me personally at least. Ultimately, I found myself disappointed with the book although it definitely had a promising beginning.