Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

a review by Elyse Taylor

The Oracle of Stamboul follows the journey of eight year-old Jewess Elanora Cohen from her home in Constanta, Turkey, to Stamboul, the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Elanora is an extraordinary talent, showing signs of savantism from her earliest instruction. Life is not all simple for this sweet and brilliant child; though close to her father, she is motherless, and her stepmother is not accepting of Elanora’s ‘difference’.

Elanora is variously banned from studying, scolded for her knowledge and restricted from reading as she chooses in an effort to subdue her ability. Frustrated with this and not wishing to stay alone with her stepmother, she follows her father on his business trip, stowing away in a steamer case full of carpets. Thus begins a journey that is both astounding and challenging. Despite her modest origins, Elanora finds herself exposed to opportunity and the promise of glory. This is tempered with personal loss, manipulation and the political maze of the Sultan’s court; Elanora does not emerge from these hardships unscathed and is changed for good by the occurrences in Stamboul.

Set in the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Nineteenth Century, Oracle is both a political intrigue and the coming of age for its young protagonist. The blend of historical fact, philosophy and narrative in this book creates a fascinating and sometimes bewildering journey for potential readers. Frustratingly, some questions are never answered. While Elanora’s story does come to a decisive close, there is some uncertainty regarding what happened to the Oracle of Stamboul.

In literary terms the novel is evocative and enticing. Michael David Lukas’ first novel is an enchanting tale, filled with beautifully depicted scenery, historical realism and engaging characters. A thread of mysticism and prophecy runs throughout creating suspense and exoticism that is rare in the modern novel. Lukas’ history as a travel journalist is evident in the attention he gives to location, and the way he allows setting to shape the story.

A personal favourite of mine; check it out.

 

This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.