The Oracle of Stamboul
THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL is a truly delightful debut that centers on a unique Jewish child with unusual talents. This is a book about a child prodigy, someone whose intellectual capacity is unprecedented at a young age, yet whose abilities never place her outside the realm of credibility for skeptics. This is a story about espionage and covert activities that may lead to the decline of the Ottoman Empire, with a setting in the late 1800s that is both luxurious and diverse (albeit unstable). Somewhere here, eight-year-old Eleonora Cohen travels far from home with her father toward the destination of Stamboul, where Yakob intends to sell his wares. There he relates to associates’ perceptions about his daughter's astounding genius. The trip leads to some fateful but unfortunate circumstances, placing Eleonora's future at risk and leading her toward a direct position of power over the future of the Empire.
"THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL is one of those debuts that defies the norm...a first creation that is astoundingly good..."
Eleonora's story begins with her birth on an auspicious day where many "signs" arise for anyone who might be watching these sorts of things. Hordes of birds --- purple-feathered hoopoes --- fix their gaze on the home of the Cohens, alighting on the rooftop just as Eleonora's mother labors to bring her new daughter into the world. Pink and healthy, the baby survives, but her mother dies of blood loss during the labor. After Mrs. Cohen's death, Eleonora's infancy and early childhood are spent in the company of her aunt Ruxandra and father Yakob. Yakob Cohen is a successful and devoted father, a refined carpet merchant whose business is in marketing expensive rugs to prosperous families throughout the Empire. As such, he travels frequently and often leaves Eleonora under the strict tutelage of her fearful aunt.
Ruxandra and Yakob discover quickly that Eleonora is different from other children. At eight, her memory is near perfect, and she demonstrates advanced logic and the ability to process complex information. This puts her far ahead of her tender age. Out of fear of becoming a target for persecution (most especially by those who target Jews), Ruxandra attempts to contain the girl's advancing knowledge and force her to conceal her abilities. It becomes evident, however, that the child's intellect is so much a part of her that there is no way they can hope to hide it.
Yakob tutors Eleonora himself until one day when he leaves on a trip and his daughter stows away on the freighter he has boarded. She reveals herself in time, though Yakob is uncomfortable with exposing her to the outside world. Yet he gives her the rare opportunity to see the wonderful sights of the city of Stamboul, introducing her to many strange and generous people. The trip, however, leads to events both wonderful and tragic, and Eleonora never sees her family home again.
THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL is one of those debuts that defies the norm, being a first creation that is astoundingly good, so much so that I wonder how on earth any author without a great deal of professional writing experience is capable of creating it. Most debuts are enjoyable but not great, yet this one kept my attention entirely and made me want to reread it straight away. I would think most readers will be enchanted by this unusual story about a sweet and naive little girl whose difficult choices lead to unpredictable consequences, and I'll be watching closely for future books by Michael David Lukas.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on March 28, 2011
The Oracle of Stamboul
- Publication Date: February 1, 2011
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Harper
- ISBN-10: 0062012096
- ISBN-13: 9780062012098