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I had never heard of the book The Oracle of Stamboul or author Michael David Lukas but picked it up at an op-shop for $1. I was intrigued to read it as Istanbul is one of the great cities in which to set a story. The last time that literature took me to Istanbul was My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, which is set in nine snowy days in 1591. I won’t pretend that I found that book easy to read! There’s no doubt the Pamuk is a talented and inventive writer and deserving of the Nobel Prize for Literature but that book almost exceeded my limit of reading patience. In fact it took me quite some time to get through it but it was worthwhile because of the richness of the historical setting! My next literary excursion to Istanbul was with Elif Shafak in The Bastard of Istanbul, which holds a special place for me thanks to the strong female characters that she populates her story with. By contrast The Oracle of Stamboul is easy to read and holds some of the magical charm of Red and Bastard but for me the story lost it’s glimmer after the central character Eleonora’s father died. Until then we had explored Istanbul through Eleanora’s 8 year old eyes after she arrived from the Ottoman outpost of Constanta. Some of the prose is lovely in its descriptions but lacked a little of the panache that marks great novels.
Bundles of light fell from a latticework screen just below a peacock-colored ceiling …
It was very interesting to read about an empire in steep decline but I felt that Lukas lost his direction at some point along the way and the plot took too many divergences and didn’t elaborate enough on the central plot line. Some aspects that I wanted more about were:
The simplicity of childhood … could only be appreciated from a distance.
I read some notes by Lukas saying that the book took him 6 drafts and 7 years to write and he didn’t know when to end it. I think that’s evident in the way that the story loses it’s way, becomes over-complicated in some ways and drops interesting plot lines in other ways. I loved the descriptions of buildings, carvings, gardens, the hoopoes etc but I needed more magic realism and more plot development.