Monday, June 4, 2012

The Oracle of Stamboul

The Oracle of Stamboul
by Michael David Lukas
Published in 2011
Published by Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-1-44340-506-5

Eleonora is an extremely precocious Jewish girl born in Constanta on the Black Sea on the precise day in 1877 when the Ottoman Empire loses control of the city. She chafes under the strict rule of her stepmother, and when she is eight years old she stows away in the luggage of her merchant father to a new life in Stamboul (and that city is never called by any other name in the novel).

Eleonora's intelligence and perception attract the attention of some powerful people, and she is thrust against her will into the world of court intrigue. Meanwhile, we readers are treated to lavish depictions of late nineteenth-century Stamboul, written by an author who is clearly deeply in love with the city.

My wife and I lived in Stamboul for a month last year, as we took an intensive CELTA course at a local institute. We found ourselves a room in a townhouse within walking distance of the road known as Grande Rue de Pera to the people in the novel, and Istiklal Caddesi to people who live later in history than the nineteenth century. We were tourists when we had the time (which was not often, once the course started), and as such I was able to read the descriptions of nineteenth-century Stamboul that Lukas wrot with appreciation.

The story moves along at a good, steady pace, and I found it to be very much a page-turner. Then... the book ends. Even before reading anyone else's reaction I could guess this was going to be a sticking point with many readers. When Eleonora decides she's had enough of other people controlling her narrative and her life, she takes action to bring about the end of her intrigue-filled life in Stamboul on her terms. This is undoubtedly going to lead to a lot of readers saying, 'That's it?'

Well, yes, that's it. I can respect Eleonora, the strong-willed creation of Michael David Lukas' brain, and I'm willing to concede that when the central character says the story as far as she's concerned is over, then it's over, and I was happy for the ride while it lasted.

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