A quiet but passionate novel that beautifully conveys the flavor of Turkish culture.

THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL

A lyrical debut novel of life in 19th-century Turkey, focusing on the effect a young prodigy (aka The Oracle of Stamboul) has on the political and cultural leaders of the time.

Born in 1877, Eleonora Cohen enters a world of tragedy, for her mother Leah dies in childbirth, and her father, the businessman Yakob, is scarcely prepared to raise a young girl on his own. Enter Leah’s sister, the officious Ruxandra, who marries her brother-in-law and prepares to raise the child. When Eleonora is eight, her father goes to Stamboul—Istanbul—to sell rugs, and Eleonora secrets herself in the ship hold to be with her father. In the city she has an opportunity to further her considerable education. She demonstrates her penetrating mind by watching her father play backgammon, and then playing (and winning) her first few games. Eventually, she becomes a polymath and winds up learning seven languages. When her father dies in a ship explosion, she is left in the hands of her father’s friend, Moncef Bey, who’s both charmed and amazed by her erudition. Word of this precocious child gets to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the Caliph of Islam, who tests her understanding and then begins relying on her for political advice. Though cautioned by Jamaludin Pasha, the Grand Vizier, to be careful taking advice from an eight-year-old, the sultan is impressed by her shrewd political evaluations and begins to make foreign-policy decisions based on her judgment. In fact, he sends her trunks of documents to study, for the Ottoman Empire is caught on shaky ground between the German Empire and Tsarist Russia, the latter sometimes openly attacking Turkish troops. It turns out that Eleonora is indeed an oracle, perhaps the incarnation of a divine prophecy made many centuries before, for certain omens seem to have heralded her birth and young life. She ultimately vanishes, leaving almost no trace of her influence.

A quiet but passionate novel that beautifully conveys the flavor of Turkish culture.  

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-201209-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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