Monday, September 12, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lucas — 320 pgs

The Oracle of Stamboul: A Novel (P.S.)It’s the summer of 1877 in Constanta, on the Black Sea, and a very special baby has been born. From the moment she enters the world, strange and unusual prophecies begin to unfurl. Though Eleanora's mother died during her birth, her father raises her with help from her maternal aunt Ruxandra, and Eleanora winds up being a very precocious young girl indeed. Able to mentally decipher all kinds of knowledge, not only academically but emotionally as well, Eleanora is kept marginalized by her aunt who wishes to avoid scandal attaching to the family name. But talent and skill will out, and soon Eleanora is on her way to becoming a very important fixture in Stamboul, a fate she never envisioned for herself. Meanwhile, the Sultan Abdulhamid II is trying to maintain a tenuous hold on his lands and is being besieged by foreign powers that have very different political aims than he does. Beleaguered with responsibilities to his realm and employing a bevy of spies, the Sultan Abdulhamid II has his eye on a man who has become very dear to Eleanora’s heart, a man who has sworn an oath to her father and who might be at the center of a secret and dangerous side of politics. When the Sultan gets word of the talented girl in his midst, everything about Eleanora’s life begins to change. Infused with touches of magical realism, The Oracle of Stamboul is a whirlwind trip into the heart and mind of a very special little girl, and the people who come to shape and change her life, for better or worse.

This was a story that had two prime focuses. The first thread focused on a young girl who was wise beyond her years. In all matters, Elenora conducted herself as girl who was much more socially and academically advanced than her counterparts, and after a bit of suspension of disbelief, it wasn’t difficult for me to see her as a very special sort of savant who had the ability to both meld herself to her circumstances and also to shape the world around her. I had heard some other readers thought Elenora’s rapid mental progress felt a tad disingenuous, but once I realized a main motivator in this book was Eleanora’s special prowess when it comes to the matters of the mind, I found that I was able to sit back and let the story flow over me more easily.

The second focus revolved around the Sultan Abdulhamid II and his political conundrum. Though these sections were no less detailed and descriptive, I found them to be the less engaging of the two parts of the book. Lucas manages to be very complex and relevant in these sections, but there seemed to be an emotional remove for me personally during these scenes. Part of what I think he was trying to do was to show the Sultan Abdulhamid’s humanness and how his lofty position didn’t preclude him form having the same issues as the people around him, but from my perspective, I much preferred the examination of Eleanora's humanness and splendor. During the main thrust of the book, these two spheres of storytelling continually veered towards and then away each other, eventually locking onto each other in a way that both heightened the dramatic tension of the tale and provided Eleanora a crux from which to deviate from the expectations of the others around her.

I felt it sort of strange that the magical realism in this tale was painted with such a light touch. I liked what I got but would have been tremendously pleased to have had more of it. It’s not as if an inattentive reader could have missed it, but I feel there was room in the story for much more interplay between fantastical elements and the elements of the everyday, and my eyes and mind were expecting the tale to give this angle to me more fully. And I think, based on Lucas’ ability to craft a genuinely eclectic and engaging story, he would have been able to pull off more of a magical realism bent had he decided to. I won’t say I didn’t like the direction and details that he peppered his story with, only that I had hoped there would be a more decided direction to take his tale into the depths of the magical realism genre.

I did end up enjoying this book a lot, and most of that had to do with the very creative and sympathetic creation of Eleanora. Her behavior was never fanciful, but when she was center stage, she shined with life and vigor. Even her heartbreak had the hallmarks of intelligence and aplomb, and for her sections alone, this book is one that I would recommend to a host of other readers. It was a very unusual tale and one that made me consider its heroine very deeply. Though some areas were not what I had expected, ultimately this was a charming and thought-provoking read.


Author Photo 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. He is a graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, and his writing has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, National Geographic Traveler, and the Georgia Review. Lukas lives in Oakland, less than a mile from where he was born. When he isn’t writing, he teaches creative writing to third- and fourth-graders. He is also the author of The Oracle of Stamboul: A Novel.

Find out more about Michael at his website.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, August 30th:The Lost Entwife
Thursday, September 1st:Jenny Loves to Read
Friday, September 2nd:Wordsmithonia
Monday, September 5th:Books Like Breathing
Tuesday, September 6th:Literature and a Lens
Tuesday, September 6th:Rundpinne
Wednesday, September 7th:Lit Endeavors
Friday, September 9th:Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, September 13th:Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, September 14th:JenandthePen
Thursday, September 15th:Café of Dreams
Friday, September 16th:Bookfoolery and Babble
Monday, September 19th:The Book Nerd Club


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

26 comments:

Suko said...

Zibilee, another outstanding review! You are an excellent writer and reviewer. This book sounds like a book I'd also enjoy quite a bit. Wonderful intro!

Wall-to-wall books said...

Nice review/ This is a book I would have never picked, but your review does make it sound good.
I agree, i love magical realism and if a book is going to have it I think they should just go all out and do it.
I read another book that just had one thing happen and I kept waiting for more but - nothing. I felt unfulfilled, LOL.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I've been looking at this book on my shelf, and you just gave it life. Your reviews are always so inspiring!

Beth F said...

I had to do a quick skim because I really want to read this. I seem mixed opinions but I have a feeling I'll like it.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Don't know what to say about this story. Fiction is supposed to be fictitious and novel. Hence, we can introduce a lot of highly-improbable events. Yet, the introduction of such has faced disgust from some section of readers. Or is it more to do with the handling of such subject matter? Difficult to say.

All the same, this is a great review.

Aths said...

I often find it disappointing when a book has just the spare amount of fantastical elements. If there is any fantasy at all, it would be nice to see more of it. This would have been great in that respect or as a steampunk maybe. But I'm glad that Eleanora was a magnificent character, it sounds like she made the book so much more worthwhile! Fabulous review!

bermudaonion said...

I think the political aspects of the book would drag for me as well, but I'm still interested in reading it. Great review, as always.

TheBookGirl said...

From the synopsis, I would have thought that the magical realisim element would be front and center. I can understand why you would feel left wanting more.

This isn't a time period I've read much about, so the political stuff might actually be sort of interesting to me. I'll have to keep this one in mind.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

You seem to be reading a lot of magical realism lately! I like them sometimes - it depends, I guess. But I'm not averse to trying them to find out! Wonderful review, as always!

Marie said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this. I actually put it down but maybe I made a mistake! Happy BBAW to you- I'm seeing you mentioned on so many blogs as a favorite and you're certainly one of my favorites & it's awesome to see how many other fans you have!

Amy said...

I have seen this book quite a bit around the book blogging community but yours is the first review I have actually read about it! Eleanora sounds like a fascinating character and I think her story would hold my attention. I'm not sure the same holds true for the Sultan. For some reason this story sounds rather familiar but not knowing what happens with Eleanors and the Sultan, I may not say this by the end of the book.

I enjoyed your review as always, Heather. I'm not sure if I'll read this book. It's something I need to think about. I may be pestering you on this point some day soon!

reviewsbylola said...

I have heard some great things about this book. It sounds very atmospheric.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Lots of "unusual and interesting" reads coming from you, these days! This looks unique and interesting per the protagonist. Very cool.

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

This one sounds really good, I'm just not sure about the political aspects. I would love to give it a try. Great review!

Biblibio said...

I think maybe the magical realism has to be done gently in the hopes to keep those readers who don't particularly want the more fantastic elements in the story, while having it the story nonetheless. Though I haven't specifically read The Oracle of Stamboul, I agree with you on the whole - magical realism has the potential to develop wonderfully within the frame of a story and though pleasant if subtly done, it does lack some of the ultimate punch some of the more openly fantastic stories have...

Jenny said...

I tend to enjoy books where the main character is a precocious or just super smart kid. I don't know why, LOL, but I might like this book for that alone!

heathertlc said...

Eleanora seems like such a wonderful character - I need to read this one just to know more about her!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Jules said...

Hmm, I'm on the fence with this one. Looks like an interesting story, but I wonder if I'll have issues with the main character. Still, may be worth checking out the book. I could use that library book of mine. Thanks for the review.

Amy said...

This sounds like an interesting book for sure.

Audra said...

Lovely review -- I too wished there was more magical realism in the novel. The book had a kind of incomplete feel -- or a moment in time sense to it -- the novel ended where many times, the story would just begin -- but I liked that, in a way. It almost unsettled me, made me sit up and think about what a story should do -- and much like the nonexistent book series that Eleanora reads, this book had me wishing for more.

nomadreader said...

Magical realism is sometimes hit or miss for me, and I confess I'm still on the fence about this one. I'll keep pondering this one thanks to your thoughtful review.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Great review, Heather - I must pick this one up.

Do you find that it's rare that a book's two storylines carry equal weight/satisfaction? I'm often more connected to the historical story, and can do without the contemporary one (which is usually a love story!), but it sounds like this played out differently.

Erin said...

I was very interested to read your review, considering how carefully you tend to cover the books you share with us! I had read part of this one via NetGalley, but by about a third of the way in, it was doing nothing to grab my attention. I ended up declining to review it and never finished reading. It's not one I feel compelled to pick up again, but I enjoyed reading your take on the book. I'm glad you ended up liking it! That seems to have been the reaction of most bloggers. Seems I'm the anomaly this time :-)

Darlene said...

I've debated back and forth on reading this one. It sounds like something I would like but I'm still not completely sure. Fantastic review as usual!

Jenna said...

Glad you enjoyed this one overall. Like you, I do wish the magical realism had been a little more prominent. In fact, I think the book could have been longer without feeling forced. Maybe that would have done more to flesh out the Sultan's story. As always, great review!

Kitchen Benchtops said...

If your book would appeal to people who like characters with a bit of an edge, sounds like it's right up my alley. I'll be looking for it!

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