A Gently Told Fairy Tale

By Betsy Burton

Oracle of Stamboul, Michael David Lukas

Early one morning Eleanora, an 8-year-old girl whose mother has died, stows away in a trunk of carpets, intending to follow her father to Stamboul where he means to spend a month with an old friend, Moncef Bay. Eleanora is a savant and has already attracted the attention of an American, Yale-educated spy and the admiration of her Turkish host when her father dies in an explosion that might or might not be an accident. The spy becomes her tutor, her host a kind of father, and rumors of her prodigious intelligence begin to drift across the city, ultimately attracting the attention of the Sultan himself.

The year is 1877, the Russians are baiting the Turks in hopes of acquiring more territory, the Germans are attempting an alliance for their own reasons, the British hover, alert for advantage and the Americans are in the game as well. The game in question is the ravaging of the Sultan’s once-vast Ottoman Empire. And at the heart of all this intrigue is Eleanora.

If all of this sounds like some improbable fairy tale, that’s exactly what it is: a gently told fairy tale set in a real world in real time yet embracing the enchanting improbabilities of magical realism. The Oracle of Stamboul is not just a great read for those in the mood to be swept away, but a perfect book for young readers as well, the ideal stocking stuffer for just about anyone.

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