Brave New Worlds
Eleanora Cohen is an incredibly precocious Romanian girl who stows away to Istanbul where her mystical qualities really start to emerge. There’s a fair amount of magical realism in the book, most notably the flock of white and purple birds that follows Eleanora everywhere she goes. The book is set against the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century, with Sultan Abdulhamid and his court being important characters in the novel. A lot of questions are left unanswered at the end of the book, and characters’ motivations and allegiances are never really known. The book is beautifully written and Eleanora certainly is a fascinating character.
I think perhaps that Michael Luka, the author of “The Oracle of Stamboul” might be the king of the simile. For example: “Hoopoes covered the town like frosting, piped in along the rain gutters of the governor’s mansion and slathered on the gilt dome of the Orthodox church.” Or “ At one point, in what might have been a dream, a deer glanced past her window, its eyes reflecting some hidden luminosity like a string of lighthouses multiplied along the shore. Or “The morning pressed its face to the small window above the sink like a beggar”. This is Mr. Luka‘s debut novel and it is so beautifully written that you almost don’t care about the plot. But not quite. Because you fall in love with Eleonora Cohen, her magical world elegantly and concisely told in quite the manner she, of a precocious 8 year old, might understand it. You are drawn into her story, her sorrows, her triumphs, her dawning understanding. If I had any complaints it would be that the book just ends, and there you are, as if you have been abruptly woken from a most delightful dream that flies away and now will never be finished.
I have such mixed feelings about this book. I really liked the writing style throughout, and the characters were very interesting. However, the plot felt a bit lacking, the repeated references to an imaginary literary work became frustrating, and the ending was just so disappointing ("that's it?!"). Not bad, but not great either.
The Oracle of Stamboul is a magical foray into the late 19th-century Ottoman Empire, with 8-year-old Eleonora Cohen providing much of its whimsy and charm.
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