07 March 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul, by Michael David Lukas

When a flock of hoopoe birds arrive at the time a young girl is born, midwives descend upon a home to usher in the birth of a child born under these prophesied events. The mother dies after childbirth and Eleonora, a gifted child, grows up with her attentive father and strict stepmother. When her father has to sail to Stamboul (Istanbul) on business, eight-year-old Eleonora becomes a stowaway on the boat to escape the overbearing stepmother who believes Eleonora should only focus on housework instead of books. Upon arriving in Stamboul, she is welcomed into the home of her father's business partner, and her life expands. Surrounded by the tools of knowledge, her intellectual genius flourishes, one in which this eight-year-old girl speaks multiple languages, can write passages verbatim from Virgil's The Aeneid, and breaks code with the ease of an expert. Soon, her interaction with the Sultan grows into an advisory capacity, and the future of Stamboul is affected. Could she fulfill the prophecy?

Mastering the brilliance of historical fiction and vivid imagery, Michael David Lukas has crafted an elegant debut novel set in Stamboul, and I was absolutely drawn in from the first page. With rich and vibrant colors combined with the grittiness of life in the late 1800s in Turkey, and with just a dash of magical realism, the book resonates with the flourish of beautiful imagery. Each character is intense and genuine, and it's clear that research has been carefully documented. I had an incredibly difficult time putting this book down once I was caught up in the new life of a little eight-year-old girl (who is essentially a savant) and with the fluidity of the events and descriptions of her experiences and most especially, her abilities. I have a sneaking suspicion that there might be a follow-up to this book (this just may be, though, since I enjoyed this book so much, more of my own wish to travel back and escape into Eleonora's world again). This debut author has prepared readers for a long career and I anticipate more of his work!

One of my favorite passages:
In its time, the sun rose unsteady from a distant corner of the sky, and with it the fog lifted. Already the Bosporus was teeming, packed with fishing boats, caïques, and the occasional lumbering steamer. On the shore, under the shades of cypress trees, miniature people hawked and haggled, bustled, bargained, and prayed. Three gargantuan turtle-domed mosques glinted in the rising sun, their minarets piercing the sky like bayonets, and there, at the confluence of waters, was the most glorious building Eleonora had ever seen. Gardens upon gardens, arches, balustrades, and clerestories ringed by a gleaming white marble wall and watched over by a regiment of glass towers, Topkapi Palace, the residence of His Excellency Sultan Abdulhamid II, sat perched on the rim of the Golden Horn, a testament to inconceivable wealth. (Chapter Seven)
It's pretty safe to say that I loved this book...

About the Author
Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary Scholar in Tunisia. A graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, his writing has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, National Geographic Traveler, and the Georgia Review. He has received scholarships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf  Writers' Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the Elizabeth George Foundation. He currently lives in Oakland, CA, less than a mile from where he was born. When he isn't writing, he teaches creative writing to third and fourth graders.

Find out more about Michael at his website by clicking here.


Many thanks to Trish with TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read this book!
Please take a look through the upcoming tour schedule to read more reviews!

All of the tour stops for this book can be found by clicking here.
Monday, February 28th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Tuesday, March 1st: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, March 2nd: Simply Stacie
Thursday, March 3rd: Janet Boyer Blog
Friday, March 4th: Kelly’s Lucky You!
Monday, March 7th: Book Journey 
Tuesday, March 8th: Coffee and a Book Chick
Wednesday, March 9th: Teresa’s Reading Corner
Wednesday, March 9th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Monday, March 14th: Like Fire
Wednesday, March 16th: The Whimsical Cottage
Monday, March 21st: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Wednesday, March 23rd: Layers of Thought

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


  1. Wonderful review. I have a feeling I would love this book too.

  2. I'm looking forward to reading this soon now - my review copy is looking at me as I write this, urging me on!

    Love the new look of the blog too - I've noticed it slowly changing recently but this looks gorgeous!

  3. What a nice review. I think I will enjoy this one as well.

  4. That sounds fab-u-lous! I loved the passage you quoted too, it makes you eel like you have the sun on your skin and the sound of the haggling in your ears. I'll keep an eye out for this one.

  5. I have had this on my TBR list for a short time. After reading your review, I reallly want to read it now. Great review.

  6. Magic realism, history, a wonderful setting... it most definitely sounds like my kind of book!

  7. bermudaonion - Thanks, Kathy! I'd love to hear what you have to say about this one after you read it! I think you'd enjoy it, too! :)

    The Book Whisperer - Oh, can't wait to see what you think of this one! And thanks for the blog compliment! I've been dabbling in sprucing it up lately! :)

    (Diane) Bibliophile by the Sea - Thanks, Diane! It's one that definitely captures the reader and pulls them right in!

    Kathmeista - That one particular passage just evokes the certain air and feeling of that scene, doesn't it? Definitely keep an eye out for it!

    A Journey in Reading - Definitely read it; let me know what you think!

    Nymeth - I'm such a magical realism fan, so even just a slight dose of it will pull me in! If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think!

  8. Excellent review! Definitely not a setting I have read about, and Eleonora sounds like a wonderful main character to get lost with . Thanks for the recommendation.

  9. Wonderful review. I also liked the lyrical aspect of the book even though the ending seemed a bit rushed and the whole "oracle" title was, in my opinion, a bit misleading.
    I did like it however and got it from TLC as well.
    My thoughts are here: http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=1594

  10. such a lovely review! i have heard so much about this book and am definitely going to read it. eleonora sounds like such a remarkable character. i love magic realism, especially when it is mixed with history!

  11. I have heard so many good things about this book, and I was wondering if you found the young girl's voice to be a little older than what you might have been expecting. I had heard that the book was amazing and the imagery fantastic, and I do really love a bit of magical realism when it's done right, but I was wondering if that voice of the protagonist would be a little jarring. Maybe I am just pinpointing on this because I am reading a book where this is an issue and I am noticing it.

  12. I love when an author really "knows his stuff" regarding the historical background of the book and yet doesn't allow this detail to bog down the story. I'm happy to see that is the case here!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  13. I wasn't sure about this when I first started seeing it around. But after this review (esp. the quote) I really think I'd love it.

  14. Sounds awesome! I just had to go and buy the book right away after reading this... can't wait!

  15. This one truly sounds like it has a heartwarming premise with rich world building. Lovely review. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. I hadn't heard of this book before, so I'm glad to know have it on my radar.

  16. I love 'magical realism' if done well or at least done so I am accepting of it and it doesn' jar the senses. This is a wonderful review. I'm not sure if this is my type of book, but I'm willing to give it a try.

  17. I've seen this one around a lot. I may have to pick it up for the setting alone.

  18. Jenny Girl - I did enjoy Eleonora and felt swept up in her world; I hope you enjoy the escape as well!

    Man of La Book - Thanks! I am hoping for a sequel, which will hopefully tie up some of those items that might feel a bit unresolved.

    Priya Parmar - Yes, history with a little magical realism definitely never hurt anyone! :) I enjoy it immensely!

    Zibilee at Raging Bibliomania - As it was more in a third-person perspective, I found it wasn't jarring at all. Eleonora is definitely a more mature eight-year-old, but that isn't shocking because she is quite intelligent. Her voice was clearly felt, but still maintained a slight innocence as well, which felt believable for me considering while she may be very young, she is still a savant. Her responses to questions from adults who were curious about her intelligence felt childlike, but very mature. I loved the character and I hope you do as well, Heather!

    Heather at TLC - Thanks so much to you all for inviting me on the tour! I loved this book!

    Martha @ Hey, I want to read that - I do hope you like it! Let me know what you think!

    Elma Ilona - Oh, my goodness! What a treat for me to read your comment! I hope you enjoy it and please let me know what you think after you've read it!

    Missie - It definitely had the rich world experience - if you pick it up, let me know!

    Yvette - Magical realism is one that I really love! Although I wouldn't say that the whole book was structured in this way, it definitely held elements that were true to it that really swept me away. Give it a try!

    Carol's Notebook - The setting is beautiful! I hope you like it!

  19. I'm on the fence about this one, I've read some reviews that really loved it and some that were not that impressed. I'm sure I'll pick it up eventually, it does sound like a really lovely read.

  20. Although the cover usually does not influence me in reading a book, this one is so pretty... I enjoyed visiting the Topkapi palace and Blue Mosque two years ago!! It's as beautiful as was described in that quote. Got to get this book. Thanks.

  21. This author is so talented at giving you a sense of place. You are instantly transported to 19th century Turkey -- the sites the smells the feel of the place. Characters are deep and well drawn. I loved this book and hated for it to end!