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The Oracle of Stamboul

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  3,289 ratings  ·  793 reviews

An elegantly crafted, utterly enchanting debut novel set in a mystical, exotic world, in which a gifted young girl charms a sultan and changes the course of an empire's history

Late in the summer of 1877, a flock of purple-and-white hoopoes suddenly appears over the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, and Eleonora Cohen is ushered into the world by a mysterious pair o

Hardcover, 294 pages
Published February 8th 2011 by Harper (first published 2011)
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Popular Answered Questions
Dan No, her favorite series of books is called "The Hourglass."

The author has said that he invented that series. It does not really exist. He was quoted o…more
No, her favorite series of books is called "The Hourglass."

The author has said that he invented that series. It does not really exist. He was quoted on a blog:

"It’s invented. And it is one of my favorite parts of the novel. There’s something so magical about a piece of art that exists only within a piece of art. Works like that have a magic hologram quality to them, which is fun in a Borgesian kind of way. It’s also about as close as a work of art can come to perfection, existing only as a reflection of something else."(less)
Konstantin It is a light story, nothing explicite, so I would say Middle Grade and up.

Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.50  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,289 ratings  ·  793 reviews

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Oct 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
If I am not for myself who will be for me?
Elyse  Walters
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Update: Kindle $1.99 special today.

I read this years ago. I still own a copy of the book.
It was sooooo special to me and my daughters.

It’s an adult book - but young girls would love reading it - or having it read to them.

My tiny review from years ago:
I don't see anybody writing likes this today. Its my 'FAVORITE' novel of the year ----a very special 'gem' of a story.
Feb 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I was quite excited to read this novel about Turkey (especially after hearing an interview with the author on NPR) and anticipated losing myself in the magic of Eleonora's adventures. Instead, I was struck by huge bricks of wordiness and insignificant (read: unnecessary) characters. Every time the story started to pick up pace and get more interesting, poor word choice or a dry situation would kill the moment.

A few things were unclear to me, including Eleonora's native tongue. I couldn't tell wh
Mal Warwick
Mar 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: trade-fiction
Sheer Reading Pleasure

If you enjoy reading for its unique possibilities — mellifluous language, vivid imagery, immersion in places and circumstances you might never experience — then you’ll love this book. From the very first page, The Oracle of Stamboul will draw you relentlessly into the world of the Ottoman Empire in its twilight years of the 1880s. You’ll meet an extraordinary child, Eleanora Cohen, and you’ll be present with her from the violence of her birth in Rumania through her ninth y
Feb 17, 2011 rated it liked it
I am so disappointed. Until the last two chapters of the book, I was captivated by Eleonora's story. Lukas has a gift as a story-teller. He creates interesting characters and his writing is rich in imagery and imagination. The plot he weaves is intricate and evocative. With a background rich in the cultural and political history of Stamboul, the story draws the reader into its web, creating a tension and a feeling that one is moving to an exciting, earth-shattering climax. It's unfortunate, then ...more
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
"The Oracle of Stamboul" by Michael David Lukas is not just a novel, it is a literary portal that transports you to the streets of Turkey in the late 1800's. And while you are there, Michael David Lukas takes you on a magical journey - with his beautiful prose, he builds the city around you, surrounds you with the smell of its spices, and the warmth of its people. It is this particular quality in Lukas' writing that really gives this novel its edge.

Eleanora Cohen is born to Yakob Cohen on a tra
Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'That is exactly why I requested to be sent here,'said Fredrick. 'They fought me on it first. Didn't think the readers would want a sketch from Asia. So I told them, first of all, half the city is in Europe. And second, this is exactly what the readers want. They want dervishes and elephants. Just look at Kinglake. Look at the Arabian Nights. People want Oriental colour.'
The Reverend raised his glass in toast.
'To Oriental colour. And old friends. Welcome to Stamboul.'

This is the kind of book
Laura C.
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I think perhaps that Michael David 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 ...more
Ashley Hill
Jan 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
The book is well-written and just interesting enough that I finished it. The premise is interesting, and I actually had a lot of hope for it in the opening. But as I read on, I just found it kind of lacking. Really, I'd say it's an interesting book wherein nothing really happens.

I didn't find the main character very believable as an eight-year-old girl, even as an exceptionally gifted one, and none of the other characters really held any interest for me. I would find myself wondering about their
Mar 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I was completely charmed by this unexpected fairy tale of a novel which tells of a young stowaway in a rug-seller's trunk who travels by boat to Stamboul, the city at the intersection of Europe and Asia. Stamboul is a city shrouded in mystery & incense, colored with bazaars & sunsets, and clamorous with music & many tongues. It may be universal that children, unfettered as they are by knowledge of the world, nourish the seed of hope that they might be discovered to possess unusual skills or tale ...more
A magical novel, short but fulfilling; great atmosphere and prose, it just took over my reading from the moment I opened it. I will add the full FBc reviews soon, but so far I would say that the blurb is reasonably accurate but it cannot convey the beautiful writing and magical recreation of a world long gone that the novel manages in a reasonably historical accurate way with hints of the fantastic, though still staying within the possible

As promised FBC Rv below:

INTRODUCTION: The Oracle of Stam
I wavered between giving this book 4 stars or 3 stars. Three quarters into the book, I was certain it would be just short of a 5 star, the thing keeping it from being on the top was plausibility. The protagonist was an 8 year old Jewess savant from Romania, living in Stamboul and giving military advice to the Sultan. It was just a bit too fantastic. Still, at that point, it was holding my interest.

I found the ending to be unsatisfying. The author could have tied up a few loose ends to finalize t
Jenny (Reading Envy)
A story of a young girl who learns at an insane speed, and seems destined to have a role in late 19th century Turkey's political turmoil.

I enjoyed it but it doesn't really feel all that Turkish, in the end. You could have picked Eleanor up and dropped her into any exotic location with a sultan/king/emperor and the story could have been the same. I think the author wrote the book to get to write Istanbul but it wasn't essential for the story somehow.

And while it isn't classified YA, it had that f
Jeannie Mancini
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
Disappointing Debut

In the year 1877, Eleonora Cohen was ushered into the magnificent and opulent world of the Ottoman Empire to the smell of witch hazel, the sound of thunderous hoof-beats from Russian invaders, the flapping of wings from flocks of mysterious birds, and to the bright flashes of lightening striking. The Tartar midwives holding her up to the sky said she was the long awaited Oracle from a prophecy dictated long ago a by a king upon his deathbed. He foretold there would be a baby g
Lisa Reads & Reviews
Sep 23, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bored history scholar
I was ready to be charmed. After reading too much violence and gore lately, I was ready for history and subtle intrigue. Unfortunately, The Oracle of Stamboul was flat and lifeless for me. The descriptive writing was nice in places, but I never felt the heartbeat of the characters. They moved about as sketches, or ghosts of the past without the writer revealing what lay beneath their skin.

The dialogue was mechanical and often annoying. Mr. Lukas has a habit of describing a situation, then givin
Reading Teen
Dec 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Okay, firstly, this book was a bit slow. Doesn't catch you attention right away. But, if you can get past this, The Oracle of Stamboul is very well written. I realized very early on that if you read this book out loud, it's very fun. It has words that are fun to say, especially if you say them in a fake British accent. You know, not that I tried it...

Michael David Lukas created some interesting characters for this book. They were well developed, and the main character, Eleonora, kinda reminded
May 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
Barring some kind of miracle, this looks like it's shaping up to be a 2 star book. This is normally the kind of book that I gradually stop reading. You know, you read a few pages and find you can't concentrate on what's going on because it's not holding your interest. So, you set it aside for a while. Then, you pick it up, same thing- read a few pages and put it down. Gradually, it becomes a few days, then a week until you pick it up and it eventually gets forgotten and buried under Mount TBR. S ...more
The Oracle of Stamboul is a gorgeously written book. It brings the old city of Stamboul to life in a vivid and breathtaking way, down to the scents in the air and the patterns of the carpets. Unfortunately, despite the lushly rendered setting, this is one of those novels in which not much happens.

Perhaps that is not a fair criticism of a book wherein a child is born amidst signs and portents, discovers that she has mental abilities beyond her years, runs away from home in a steamer trunk, buries
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Cheryl by: First Reads
It is marvelous when
    a book transports me to a different time and place with people I want to spend time with,
    I turn the final page satisfied but yet long for more, and
    I immediately want to share the experience with a friend.

The book is wonderful, the story enchanting, and I'm convinced this book is a winner. It is one that I personally will provide copies to our public and the school libraries.

But this time, I'd like to share a bit more. Although I normally don't post about t
Jul 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bettie by: Spotted on Darkpool & Cheryl updates


To my siblings -
Adam and Anna, Coleman and Allison -
for reminding me what matters;
and to Hayley,
for everything.

Acknowledgements at the front; what a gentleman.

Opening Quote:

'Ah, Stamboul! Of all the names that can enchant me, this one re,mains the most magical.'
Pierre Loti.

Opening: Eleonora Cohen came into this world on a Thursday, late in the summer of 1877. Those who rose early that morning would recall noticing a flock of purple-and-white hoopoes circling above the harbour, loop
Wow. Beautifully written. The author uses the most delicious metaphors, and I found myself breaking off reading at times to re-read & savour some of the more striking ones. Not quite sure why it's taken my 3 weeks to read this - it's not a difficult book by any means, and the story was a bit thin in places in retrospect. Looking forward to more from this author.
Can I just say how much I love the feel of this book? I usually get library copies of books, which means they have those weird plasticy hardcovers. But paperbacks are more my style and this one just felt so nice (the pages are raggedy like old-school books and the cover is textured). It’s so pretty (of course I proceeded to spill on it about three times so it’s not nearly so pretty anymore). It was just a joy to hold in my hands. Does that sound weird? This is why I will never accept e-readers a ...more
Shellie (Layers of Thought)
Jan 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: historical fiction/magical realism lovers
Recommended to Shellie (Layers of Thought) by: TLC blog tours
4.5 stars actually.
Original review with additional historical bits at Layers of Thought.

A poetic page turning historical début with an unusual and precocious young girl as the main character. All set in an exotic, magical, yet politically volatile country and time.

About: When Eleanor Cohen is born there are auspicious signs that she is not your normal child. She is to be a prodigy with gifts of memory, languages, extreme intelligence and something which is just a tad mystical. Set in the late 18
May 01, 2014 rated it liked it
A fantasy set in late-Ottoman Stamboul [Istanbul], telling the story of a young girl, daughter of a Jewish carpet merchant in Constanta, Romania. From strange portents at her birth, she is thought to be the fulfillment of a prophecy that she will influence the history of the world. A flock of purple and white hoopoes has been with her since her birth and remains with her, overseeing her throughout the novel. She stows away in one of her father's steamer trunks when he has to make a business jour ...more
Jul 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A beautiful read about a child prodigy whose intellectual mind devours knowledge and places her in unique political positions as she learns about the world around her and the goings on within it.

At times, I thought that maybe the author of this book might be a foreigner, because it seemed like a few of the human behaviors were a little different from what one might expect in the US. For example, the Sultan never asks if Eleonora would mind reading some things for him, he simply tells her to, and
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
This book is like a divine dessert: decadent, delicious, and portioned just enough to make you wish there was another mouthful.  Lukas' writing style is playful without being ridiculous (see my Teaser Tuesday for a taste); it's really straight up enjoyable.  Pleasurable!

The setting is an era that I'm unfamiliar with but find wholly appealing -- 19th century Turkey -- and Lukas offers gorgeous passages that place the reader squarely in Stamboul.  There's international intrigue and a host of chara
A very pretty book. Late 1800's. Eleonora is born in Romania and proves early on to possess a precocious and brilliant mind. She learns to read at 7, stows away on a ship to flee a life of ironing and sweeping, and ends up in the ancient city of Stamboul, or Instanbul, center of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. From there the story gets progressively larger. (I have to go and check this place out. I've been reading about it so long. I guess it must be kind of trashed now after all these years of be ...more
Apr 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: april-2011
I did so like the gentle but effective writing of this story. It portrays the story of a young savant/genius who is left an orphan and ultimately winds up as an advisor to the sultan. While the book is encased in magic and mystery, the story clicks along thanks to the wonderful prose of the author.

While to book is simple, for there is not much there except a bit of intrigue and the precociousness of our heroine, Eleanora, there was a sense of peace to this tale. Eleanora only a girl of eight ha
Jan 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Melissa by: Mark Ferguson @ Harper Books
Quite interesting. A bit of realism, a bit of magical realism, a bit of historical fiction. I'm still digesting this one but it is safe to say that it is an enjoyable book to read. I plowed through the first 160 pages or so to come up for air and find that the bathwater had gone cold and the cats were howling to be fed.
Feb 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: younger readers
Shelves: read-in-2011
First, a disclaimer: I was very grateful to receive Michael David Lukas's first novel, The Oracle of Stamboul as part of the Goodreads Giveaway/First Reads program. It was an absolute delight to drive to the airport on a cloudy, miserable day about a week ago and pick up my copy of the novel. To add to my anticipation: the cover of the book is stunning. As was the packaging in which it came.

Which is why I really wish I could give this first novel a rating higher than 3 stars. The book is no doub
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Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary Scholar in Tunisia. A graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, his writing has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, National Geographic Traveler, and the Georgia Review. He has received scholarships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread ...more

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