Review: The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

Title: The Oracle of Stamboul
Author: Michael David Lukas
Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: August 30th, 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Source: Copy provided by TLC Book Tours

During the violent and destructive summer of 1877, Eleonora Cohen is born during an invasion of her home city of Constanta. With the help of two mysterious midwives who show up just minutes before the birth and a flock of hoopoes flying overhead, Eleonora is welcomed into the world at the unfortunate cost of her own mother's life. As a consequence, her father Yakob sends for his sister-in-law Ruxandra, a harsh, strict woman, to assume the role of stepmother and caretaker of the house.

By age eight it is quickly understood that Eleonora is quite a gifted child. She is somewhat of a savant and possesses amazing verbal and written language skills, memorization and recitation capabilities. It is this ability to understand and analyze that helps Eleonora make the decision to stow away in a trunk on the steamer her father is taking to the city of Stamboul, where he will be staying with Moncef Bey, in the hopes of selling his lush carpets. What she finds outside the Bey's home is a vibrant and magical city full of intriguing and clandestine characters who will go on to shape her decisions and her life.

When I finished The Oracle of Stamboul I knew immediately that I would be placing this one among my favorites of 2011. Once engrossed within the exotic, decadent city I was unable to put the book down. Lukas has created such a well-written and lyrical historical novel without venturing into textbook territory, and the language was descriptive in a simple way that allowed for a smooth read. As someone unfamiliar with the region, the sights and sounds of Stamboul are described in vivid detail and provide an excellent atmosphere and backdrop to such a mystical story.

Not long after starting the novel, I quickly fell in love with Eleonora. While precocious and extremely intelligent, her true character is brave, kind and strong with an excellent moral compass. Her personality definitely calls to people in a way that makes them stop and take notice.
She brought a childish, though astonishingly precise, logic to bear on the world around her, and the intensity of her presence, that indescribable inner radiance and clarity, drew people to her from across the marketplace...
Her love of books, specifically classic literature, made this child prodigy even more relatable. Besides Eleonora, I found the characters to be genuine although a little underdeveloped, but not in a way that negatively impacted my reading experience.

The story is told through the eyes of Eleonora which adds to the introspective feel of the novel. Many tragic events that unfold are not action driven, but the quiet, simple nature only added to my enjoyment. I found the pacing of the plot very measured and deliberate. Sometimes the best book is one that patiently reveals the direction of the story. I loved that Lukas allows the reader to just sit back and enjoy without being given the pulse-pounding action and plot twists that many readers have come to expect. There are underlying hints of deception, mystery and spying that add a touch of intrigue to story as well.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. There was just the right amount of magic with the focus falling mainly on Eleonora's growth as a person. I do wish that the prophecy surrounding her birth and 'purpose' would have been elaborated on a little more, but I appreciate Lukas' choice to keep the mystical angle more subtle. Other than that minor complaint, I loved The Oracle of Stamboul and wish I had been able to spend longer in Lukas' wonderfully created world.

About Michael David Lukas

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 ReviewSlateNational 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.


Thanks again to Trish with TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour. I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review.

Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour!

Tuesday, August 30th: The Lost Entwife
Wednesday, August 31st: Books Like Breathing
Thursday, September 1st: Jenny Loves to Read
Friday, September 2nd: Wordsmithonia
Wednesday, September 7th: Lit Endeavors
Thursday, September 8th: Rundpinne
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


  1. I loved this book -- and I rather liked the sort of incomplete feeling to the book, like it paused in the middle. It makes me so curious to know what happened to everyone after the book ended. I was also devastated to learn that the book series that The Hourglass is from is entirely fictional! SAD!

  2. I feel like the reviews I have read of this one are overwhelmingly positive, so I definitely want to read it. It certainly sounds atmospheric!

  3. I am going to be reading this one later this week, and have heard so many good things about it that I am really excited. It's about time for me to totally lose myself in a book, and I am hoping this is one I can do that with. Very nice review, by the way!

  4. I got maybe a third of the way through this one a while back and ended up putting it aside. I couldn't get into it, for some reason. The more positive reviews I read, though, the more I think maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance. Perhaps I'll pick it up again someday. I'm happy that you loved it so much!

  5. This sounds really enjoyable. Need to dig out my copy.

  6. Wow, one of your favorites of the year?! What a rave review! I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  7. Underlying hints of deception, mystery, and spying? Love that! To me, that says the author thinks the reader's smart enough to not have everything spelled out for them!

    Great review.

  8. I'm definitely looking forward to reading this one!

  9. I really enjoyed your wonderful review! This book has a captivating setting, a delightful main character and some fascinating and intriguing themes and extras that round out the story. Yours is the first review I've read of this book and I'm so glad I did. Your enjoyment of the book is a consideration in my decision to list it on my tbr "tome"! Thank you!

  10. "Once engrossed within the exotic, decadent city I was unable to put the book down."

    Some of my favorite books are because the location of the book are so engrossing. I will definitely have to check this out, especially since it's one of your best books of the year.


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