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Book Review – The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas – 3 stars

The Oracle of Stamboul book cover by Michael David Lukas

The Oracle of Stamboul book cover by Michael David Lukas

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:

  • What was the significance of the deer approaching Eleonora to remove a barb from it’s foot and why did Ruxandra respond in such a hostile way? Did Eleonora have a gift for communicating with animals? Is that why the royal horses raised their hooves to her? But then why not develop that further?;
  • Why did Eleonora’s aunt Ruxandra hide Eleonora away when she discovered her precocious gifts for reading and arithmetic? She said something about it being hard enough to be a Jew in the Ottoman empire but the encrypted telegram that she sends to Eleonora towards the end of the book made me wonder if she too or at least other women in their family lineage have had some level of ‘powers’ like Eleonora;
  • why is Moncef Bey so warm towards Eleanora while her father is alive, treating her to fancy clothes and playing games with her but after her father dies the Bey’s aattitude towards her changes and he no longer spends much time with her?
  • Why do we learn about court intrigue but not enough to understand why it is introduced?;
  • Can Lukas really expect that an 8 year old girl in the late 1800’s can travel alone around Europe and not be molested in some way? I must admit that I thought when she gazed across the Bosporus that she would decide to live in the Kiz Kulesi tower especially after she dreamt about it and felt that the dream was portentous;
  • Why didn’t Lukas expand on the prophecy and make something of it?;
  • Why did Eleonora have a fit/episode when the Sultan asked her opinion?;
  • Why was the ending anti-climactic?

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.

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One comment on “Book Review – The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas – 3 stars

  1. Pingback: Book Musings – Istanbul: Memories of a City | strivetoengage

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This entry was posted on September 28, 2013 by in fiction and tagged , , , , , .
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