Friday, September 2, 2011
The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Synopsis From Back Cover:
Ushered into the world by a mysterious pair of Tartar midwives late in the summer of 1877 i the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, Eleonora Cohen proves herself an extraordinary gifted child - a prodigy - at a very young age. When she is eight years old, she stows away aboard a ship, following her carpet merchant father, Yakob, to the teeming and colorful capital of Stamboul where a new life awaits her.
In the narrow streets of this city at the crossroads of the world, intrigue and gossip are currency, and people are not always what they seem., But it is only when she charms the eccentric Sultan Abdullhamid II - beleaguered by friend and foe as his unwieldy realm crumbles - that Eleonora will change the course of an empire.
I think I'm going to make some people howl with this review, if you are one of them, I apologize. Well, not really, I just thought it would be a nice thing to say. Getting the apology up front means I don't have to do it later.
To be quite honest with you, I went into this book thinking I would love it. It had a wonderful concept and was set in a locale that I have always been fascinated with. My grandfather was stationed in Turkey for a long time, and while I've been to Ankara, Istanbul has always been on the top of my list of places I would love to visit. About the only thing this book did for me, was make that desire grow in leaps and bounds.
The settings was everything I expected. The author was able to make the city breathe for me in a way that I found fascinating to read. I felt as if I was there with Eleonora as she stowed away on the ship her father was taking to the city. I was holding her hand as she visited the Sultan for the first time. Everything was brought to life in such a mentally tactile way, that I found myself lost in the sensation of it all. I just wish it had been enough to save the book for me.
Where I felt let down, was in the characterization. There was not one character that felt completely real to me. None of them, Eleonora included, felt as if they were flesh and blood. Instead they all seemed to be ethereal phantoms that had just stepped out of the author's cerebral cortex, not yet fully formed. They were mere ideas, not concrete forms. Normally I can overlook shadowy characters if at least one of them is solid, hopefully the main character. In this case, while Eleonora was definitely the most opaque of them all, I just couldn't buy her as a real human being. She was too perfect, too much of the idea, that she never moved beyond it.
Eleonora is a child, but not once, do I ever get the impression that I'm reading about the life of an eight year old. If her age hadn't been mentioned, on more than one occasion, I'm not sure she would be any different than the adult characters. She never behaved as if she were a child. In my experience, there is no such thing as a perfectly well behaved kid. If you have one, please let me know how you did it. Every single one of them do things that get them in trouble. It's part of growing up. Eleonora on the other hand seems as if she was born an adult. She's too perfect. She has no flaws, no personality defects; there is nothing about her that causes any conflict, other than those born of her being perfect. I guess what I'm trying to say is that she is a boring character. Unfortunately, that aspect of her influenced the way I felt about the book itself. There was a sense of shallowness to it all, a dullness that I just couldn't overlook.
The book did leave me with one rather burning question though. In the book the author compares the twinkling of stars to jellyfish. I've been trying to figure out what the hell that means ever since. At first I was thinking about the jellyfish you put in fish tanks with black lights. I figured that couldn't be it since that part of the book took place in 1885. So please, if you have any clue what he was talking about, will you let me in on it.
I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book. To read other opinions, please visit the tour page. To find out more about the author, Michael David Lukas, visit his website.