I can’t believe I almost forgot to write about this book! I first heard of this book from Nancy over at Bookfoolery and Babble and I reserved it from the library immediately! when it came in, I proceeded to devour it and then gave it to my mom for her to do likewise. Unfortunately, this passing the book around meant that I lost track of the little beauty (literally – look at that cover! It’s even more beautiful in real life, because that gold color is all gilt) until now. I’m just glad it didn’t slip through the cracks completely, because I really did love reading it. Check the Goodreads:
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 of Tartar midwives who arrive just minutes before her birth.
But joy is mixed with tragedy, for Eleonora’s mother dies soon after the birth.
Raised by her doting father, Yakob, a carpet merchant, and her stern, resentful stepmother, Ruxandra, Eleonora spends her early years daydreaming and doing housework—until the moment she teaches herself to read, and her father recognizes that she is an extraordinarily gifted child, a prodigy.
When Yakob sets off by boat for Stamboul on business, eight-year-old Eleonora, unable to bear the separation, stows away in one of his trunks. On the shores of the Bosporus, in the house of her father’s business partner, Moncef Bey, a new life awaits. Books, backgammon, beautiful dresses and shoes, markets swarming with color and life—the imperial capital overflows with elegance, and mystery. For in the narrow streets of Stamboul—a city at the crossroads of the world—intrigue and gossip are currency, and people are not always what they seem. Eleonora’s tutor, an American minister and educator, may be a spy. The kindly though elusive Moncef Bey has a past history of secret societies and political maneuvering. And what is to be made of the eccentric, charming Sultan Abdulhamid II himself, beleaguered by friend and foe alike as his unwieldy, multiethnic empire crumbles?
This summary doesn’t even begin to do this book justice! Eleonora’s precocious child genius reminded me so much of a female, more literary Ender Wiggin (yeah, that’s right, I’m repping the love for Ender’s Game) that I couldn’t help but love her immediately! She is the kind of character who made me wish that I had been born a child genius. She’s playing chess and reading ancient Greek by the time I’d learned to write my ‘e’s the right way and tell time on an analog clock. Her reputation with Moncef Bey was just the right combination of mentor, friend, and caretaker that it really did make it easier to stomach some of the more tragic happenings in Eleonora’s life.
So, speaking of tragedies, here’s a mini-spoiler: Eleonora’s father is killed about a quarter of the way through the book by a boat explosion that turns out to be a kind of terroristic act. However, the fact that she deals with this tragedy by reading it away only helped to make her even more one of the best-written characters I’ve read in a while. It’s always fun to read about fellow book lovers, and what reader hasn’t taken solace in books a time or two? This action on her part makes her easier to relate to, especially considering that I know some readers have a harder time suspending belief where child geniuses are concerned.
So what did I love about the book beyond Eleonora and Moncef Bey (who is quite the silver fox, if you know what I mean – dignified, attractive, intelligent, quite, gentle…much like a Middle Eastern Richard Gere)? The setting was breathtaking:
and the pictures don’t even do justice to the way Lukas describes the smells, sights, and most importantly colors of the (slightly older than those pictures) marketplaces, libraries, and palaces of Stamboul. It was a wonderful world to get lost in, and I had no idea Stamboul was a real place until I had finished the book (yes, I know IStamboul is a real place, but apparently the two are related somehow? Not really sure on the details here, despite extensive wikipedia-ing) but its definitely made my list of places to visit when I win the lottery and have nothing but time to travel with!
All in all, I think this a book that most readers would love to sink in to. There is just enough political intrigue to spice up the novel’s events, but not such extensive background information that the reader feels weighted down. And I REALLY can’t stress enough just how much of a joy it is to get to know Eleonora, and to watch her grow as a student and as a person! In other news, keep a look out for the vlog coming up (I’m going to discuss two recent YA reads I read, or tried to read, and why they just didn’t quite work out for me) as well as, I hope, a review of Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, which I’m reading right now and is seriously one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while! Happy reading!