Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

In The Oracle of Stamboul, it was said that the birth of Elenora Cohen fulfilled a prophecy. It shouldn't have been a surprise then when this savant teaches herself to read at a very young age. She encouraged by some, but tolerated and even punished by others. When her carpet merchant father, decides to visit Stamboul for an extended period, Elenora stows away in a trunk to be with him. It's there in Stamboul, that her life takes a dramatic turn as she comes to the attention of a sultan. Could this be her destiny? Can she change the course of history?

This is definitely one of my favourite books I've read so far this year. It is magical, exotic and fantastic. I loved it from the very first page. Michael David Lukas transports the reader to 19th century Eastern Europe and introduces us to the most amazing characters. It's so well written and richly detailed that I felt like I was actually there. It's hard to believe this is Lukas's first book. I won't give the ending away, but I will say that it didn't end as I thought it would. I really love when the author devises an ending that surprises me.

Elenora Cohen was such a great character. She has a lot to contend with starting from a very young age. Her mother dies shortly after her birth, which leaves her in the care of her father and aunt who becomes her step-mother. Her aptitude for the written word was outstanding, but her gifts were not always seen as such. Later in Stamboul when she's noticed by Sultan Abdulhamid II, it isn't easy on her. I was particularly taken with the protagonist, but various other characters also got my interest. Among those are: Moncef Bey, Mrs. Damakan, the sultan and just about every other character. Even characters whom I didn't trust or like (Ruxandra, Reverend Muehler) were intriguing.

New words: The book contained many new-to-me words. I couldn't possibly list them all, so here's a sampling:
caïques (page 71): small wooden fishing boat
portmanteau (page 73): large suitcase
funicular (page 81): essentially a cable car
crenellated (page 92): crenel is a opening in battlements
sonorous (page 103): loud
ululation (page 107): howl
muezzin (page 139): man who calls Muslims to prayer
odalisque (page 151): enslaved woman in a harem
kemenche (page 151): three-stringed bowed instrument
meerschaum (page 201): a mineral resembling clay
ablutions (page 203): ritual washing
gnomon (page 216): arm of a sundial
calumnious (page 261): defamation
dodecahedron (page 278): solid figure with 12 faces
seraglio (page 285): palace

I loved the Q&A with the author, Michael David Lukas, at the end of the book. The answers provided me with great insight on the origins of the story as well as other items regarding the book and the author.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the cover of this book. It is utterly stunning. The faint spires and domes in the background along with the flock of birds emphasised that I was about to embark on a journey to faraway lands. As if the cover wasn't beautiful enough, the book arrived with an outer wrapping. Rather than describe it, just look at the photos below.

Isn't it wonderful? I loved the gold and purple ornate designs on the outside of the heavy card stock. The gold foil-like inside totally blew me away. Both the cover and the wrapping not only fit with the story but also enhanced the mystical qualities of the story. It was clear that something very special was inside.

Highly recommended. I'd love to read more of this author's work.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website.

I'd like to those nice people at HarperCollins for this review copy.

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas, HarperCollins, ©2011. ISBN 9780062012098(Advance Reader's Edition), 294p.


  1. Wonderful review. I liked this book as well (my thoughts: even though not as much as other bloggers.

    I did think the packaging was fantastic as well.

  2. Wow, one of your favorites of the year? It's going on my wish list.

  3. Nice review. Sounds like one I will enjoy.


Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate it. Unfortunately, I've been getting lots of spam comments, so I'm turning on word verification to help keep spammers away. I know it's a pain; I don't like it either. Hopefully, in time I'll be able to turn it off again. Thank you!