The Oracle of Stamboul
By Michael David Lukas
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780062012098, 304pp.)
Publication Date: February 2011
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An elegantly crafted, utterly enchanting debut novel set in a mystical, exotic world, in which a gifted young girl charms a sultan and changes the course of an empire's history
Late in the summer of 1877, a flock of purple-and-white hoopoes suddenly appears over the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, and Eleonora Cohen is ushered into the world by a mysterious pair of Tartar midwives who arrive just minutes before her birth. "They had read the signs, they said: a sea of horses, a conference of birds, the North Star in alignment with the moon. It was a prophecy that their last king had given on his deathwatch." But joy is mixed with tragedy, for Eleonora's mother dies soon after the birth.
Raised by her doting father, Yakob, a carpet merchant, and her stern, resentful stepmother, Ruxandra, Eleonora spends her early years daydreaming and doing houseworkuntil the moment she teaches herself to read, and her father recognizes that she is an extraordinarily gifted child, a prodigy.
When Yakob sets off by boat for Stamboul on business, eight-year-old Eleonora, unable to bear the separation, stows away in one of his trunks. On the shores of the Bosporus, in the house of her father's business partner, Moncef Bey, a new life awaits. Books, backgammon, beautiful dresses and shoes, markets swarming with color and lifethe imperial capital overflows with elegance, and mystery. For in the narrow streets of Stamboula city at the crossroads of the worldintrigue and gossip are currency, and people are not always what they seem. Eleonora's tutor, an American minister and educator, may be a spy. The kindly though elusive Moncef Bey has a past history of secret societies and political maneuvering. And what is to be made of the eccentric, charming Sultan Abdulhamid II himself, beleaguered by friend and foe alike as his unwieldy, multiethnic empire crumbles?
The Oracle of Stamboul is a marvelously evocative, magical historical novel that will transport readers to another time and placeromantic, exotic, yet remarkably similar to our own.
- A prophecy foretold the birth of a girl like Eleonora Cohen. Do you believe in mystical propositions such as prophecies? Do you think the events surrounding her birth were truly foretold or just coincidence? Why do we in the West dismiss the idea of prophets and prophecies? Have we lost something in doing so?
“Beguiling. . . . Lukas veers from the tried-and-true, making The Oracle of Stamboul a novel that offers delightful surprises.”
-Jane Ciabattari, Los Angeles Times
“Lukas . . . brings a raconteur’s sense of storytelling, a traveler’s eye for color and a scholar’s sense of history to his first novel. . . . Lukas has given us a Turkish delight.”
-San Francisco Chronicle
“An enchanting, gorgeous read . . . Lukas captures the scents and sounds, the vivid beauty, the subtle intrigue and simultaneous naivety, of the Ottoman Empire unaware of its imminent demise.”
-Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men are Gone
“A stunning debut . . . Lukas has managed to create an instant classic that feels as if it should be retroactively slipped into the great libraries of the old world.”
-Reif Larsen, author of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet
“Michael David Lukas charms in his debut.”
“A lyrical debut…A passionate novel that beautifully conveys the flavor of Turkish culture…focusing on the effect a young prodigy has on the political leaders of the time.”
“This first novel by a promising young writer is both vivid historical fiction and a haunting fable.”
“The exotic sights and sounds of nineteenth-century Turkey spring vividly to life in Lukas’ promising debut.”
-Booklist (starred review)
“A magical debut.”
“The Oracle of Stamboul is a delight, a gem of a first novel.”
-Read All Day
“[An] impressive debut novel.”
-San Francisco magazine
“THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL is one of those debuts that defies the norm.”
“...this riveting debut novel not only captures the atmosphere of the exotic European crossroads but also introduces a young girl who is utterly captivating.”
“In his enchanting debut novel, Michael David Lukas captures the mystical world of the Ottoman Empire.”-
“A gem of a first novel…an appealing blend of magical and historical realism…This is a polished literary work that will appeal to a wide readership.”
-Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A beautifully written debut novel. . . . Political intrigue, historical upheaval and Eastern mysticism come together in surprising ways as Lukas brings the book to a poignant conclusion tinged with magical realism.”
“An enchanting literary debut…A charming tale of passion and intrigue…that could be read in one sitting, spine-tingling descriptions will transport readers to another place and time.”