The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

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.

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8 thoughts on “The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

  1. Hey it happens, more times than we’d like. I’m amazed at how many books seem to have great premises, come out of the gate strong, but just lose their way. Too bad. This one really had the setup to be magical.

  2. I have been reading a lot of tepid reviews of this one, and what I think it boils down to is poor execution it seems. I am sorry that most of the book was not enjoyable for you. I had been thinking of reading it, but will probably pass after reading your review. THanks for the honesty.

  3. I liked the book, and I liked it that it didn’t go in predictable directions, but yeah, I could have used a bit more action, or at least the implication that a sequel containing more action would be forthcoming. I would read a sequel — I liked the characters! I’d like to see them have more to do.

  4. My family enjoyed this book although the last part could have been a bit faster and more engaging. However, we kept in mind the story from Michael David Lukas’ as to how he came up with the plot, an interesting interview we read before reading his book. The details he disclosed in the interview about his years in Istanbul, his time in Tunisia studying Arabic, and his visit to an antique bookstore where he saw a crystal ball with the image of a little girl with a self-assured, wise look, provided us with enough extra information to make the book a fun one to read.
    This author likely will have much more engaging books in the future, seems quite promising.

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