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Eleanora Cohen’s birth is full of omens. The town where she was born was under siege, her mother died in childbirth, and a flock of exotic hoopoes come to roost at the house and just stay. Otherwise, her very early years were fairly normal. Her father married his dead wife’s sister, who did her duty by Eleanora but little else. When Aunt Ruxandra agreed to start teaching Eleanora to read, she was amazed by how quickly the little girl learned. She was reading fairly complex passages from the encyclopedia by the end of her first day. A superstitious woman, aware of how Jews can so easily be turned on if they are perceived to be the least bit different, Aunt Ruxandra ends the lessons. Eleanora is allowed to read one book per month but no more.
Eleanora makes do the best she can, but when she is eight years old and her father announces that he’s leaving for an extended business trip to Stamboul, she knows that she can’t stand to be left behind with Ruxandra. She stows away in one of her father’s trunks and soon enough finds herself in the exotic city of Stamboul.
I liked this, I really did, but I was seriously left wondering if I had missed something when the audio book ended. I waited and waited for the story to start, and then it felt like it was starting, and then it ended. I just felt that there was a whole lot of build up and not much else. To be fair, I was having some trouble with my car’s ipod dock as I listened, so it is entirely possible that I did miss something, but I know I got to the ending. The “where are they now?” epilogue played as well as the credit music. If I missed anything, it wasn’t the ending.
Otherwise, I liked little earnest, brilliant Eleanora. She is doing the best she can given her circumstances. She is such a reader that I had to love her. I’m even wondering if her favorite book, The Hourglass, is real. Does anyone out there know? I’d love to read it if it is. She has a strong conscience and does her best to live by it. When asked for her opinion, she honestly weighs all her thoughts before giving it. She is loving and grateful for all that she is given.
The city of Stamboul itself is so vividly depicted that it is a character in its own right. I’m ready to hop on a flight to Turkey to experience the vivid colors and smells for myself.
The narrator, Mozhan Marno, was a great reader but somehow I didn’t feel that she necessarily fit this book. She read in an adult woman’s voice but I felt that she should have sounded a bit younger since Eleanora is only eight. It’s not written in first person but it does mostly stay focused on Eleanora and her thoughts and actions.
I think I was supposed to take away something about choosing your own destiny or something like that but I can’t say that I really did. Mostly I just want to know more of Eleanora’s story.
I might have enjoyed this more in print, taking my time to linger over the descriptive language. Readers who like Literature and magical realism (surprisingly, I don’t always do well with magical realism, despite my love of fantasy), will probably enjoy the book more than I did.
Read an excerpt.
Buy The Oracle of Stamboul at
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