Novel Thoughts: The Oracle of Stamboul

Michael David Lukas weaves a mystical tale inThe Oracle of Stamboul, chronicling the life of young Eleonora as she contemplates the world and the people in it. Accused of being both a prodigy and a spy, Eleonora copes with tragedy and happiness and ultimately takes her destiny in her own hands.

Lukas does a good job of lending his novel a sense of the mysticism often associated with folk literature of the Middle East. The Oracle of Stamboul employs the curious and fascinating qualities of the geographical region without being heavy-handed to the point of distraction.

Repetition is used throughout the book in the form of ideas (“There was only one rule, and Eleonora broke it.”) and gestures (putting one’s thumb and forefinger on the bridge of one’s nose). While commonly used in folk tales, the device seems rather tedious at times when utilized in this way in a novel-length text.

Lukas does a good job of providing readers with conflict and rising action in the beginning of his novel; however, the falling action and resolution are somewhat anticlimactic. Details go unexplained, and character functions are glibly dealt with often leaving us with more questions than answers. While some readers may find this negligence prohibits full engagement with the text, others may find the reading experience enhanced by the abundance of mystery both in the rising action and in the resolution.

Ultimately, The Oracle of Stamboul provides readers with a fantastic fictional experience filled with magical realism that will encourage them to question which events are real and which are the product of the author’s imagination.

Hello, Hello

Goodbyes are never easy, even when we think they are. Even when we think they should be. Some of us can move on from them, transitioning to whatever is next with little turbulence. For the rest of us, however, goodbyes have a way of exposing how much of ourselves is contingent on other people, places, circumstances. They have a way of revealing to us how flawed we have actually been.

Saying goodbye immediately opens the door to reflection. We are able to see ourselves and our lives (and how we’ve lived them) as if the drunk goggles have been freshly removed. We understand what people really mean to us, how much they’ve influenced us for better or for worse, consciously or not. We see situations for how they really were, not how we perceived them to be. And we are forced to grapple with how the part of our lives to which we are saying goodbye helped to make us who we are. Sometimes the leap from start to finish poses more questions than answers, and sometimes the effects of particular parts of life are left to simmer beneath the surface. But a goodbye always helps to illuminate both things well done and room for improvement.

If, as Newton declares, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, then the cure for the malaise induced by goodbye can be located in hello. Hellos are beginnings. Hellos haven’t been tainted with undesirable circumstances and human foibles. Hellos are a second chance, a consolation prize for the discomfort of goodbye.

The end of this chapter in my life begets the beginning of a new chapter. I’ve said (most of) my goodbyes, and I’ve regretted opportunities taken for granted. I’ve beaten myself up over what I should have done, over taking things for granted, over not seeing potential when it was blatantly obvious. And it’s been uncomfortable, lamenting lost opportunities and wasted time. But now…

Bring on the hellos.

Novel Thoughts: After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties

Catherine Gildiner’s continuation of her life story in After the Falls offers a first-hand experience of what it meant to participate in the social revolution of the sixties. Gildiner was admittedly a difficult child, and she was no less difficult as a teenager and young adult. In this second installation of her memoir, she explores the tension surrounding race and equality as she perceived it then.

Gildiner’s tone here is one of honesty in both the stories she relates and in her upfront admission that there has been some embellishment. She acknowledges the foibles of the genre within the first pages and quickly moves on. Throughout the story Gildiner is reluctant to linger on any particular event, exposing a conflicted sense of what it means to linger. To write a memoir in the first place suggests some predilection to linger in the past for whatever reason, but Gildiner provides the information and quickly moves on with little or no exposition.

While the stories themselves are entertaining (sometimes morbidly, sometimes not), the authorial voice feels reserved at times. Gildiner was involved in many efforts to promote equality, and she spends the most time discussing the seemingly innocuous ones. She quickly discusses her work with youth and social reform, but she doesn’t expound on her efforts or what became of them. She discusses her efforts with SNCC and SCLC, but when she leaves the movement (for reasons I won’t disclose here), readers are left wondering if she ever became involved in social change again.

The abrupt nature of her discussion foreshadows the end of the book, which happens far more quickly than the reader is prepared for it to happen. Gildiner closes out her story, and the reader is left wondering why. Why did she choose that moment as a stopping point in her story? Why does the reader feel somewhat unfulfilled at the end? Will there be another installation of Gildiner’s life story?

Conclusively readers will leave the book with a sense of curiosity both about the time Gildiner discusses and about the author herself. While Gildiner does discuss some of the important events of the sixties, she holds herself in reserve, something her readers will find lamentable at times.

Novel Thoughts: Late For Tea at the Deer Palace

Tamara Chalabi’s Late for Tea at the Deer Palace tells the complex story of a woman’s search for her identity amid the turmoil surrounding her Iraqi family. Chalabi’s family was one of prominence in Iraq several decades ago and has struggled immensely during the many regime changes that occurred during the twentieth century.

Writing a memoir and maintaining objectivity are among some of the most difficult tasks of writing in general, but Chalabi is adept at handling the reality of her family’s situation. While her voice and emotions are evident in the text, she does a fine job of portraying her family members in a way that is not clouded by emotion. Her story, the story of how conflict in Iraq has shaped her life, doesn’t actually begin until the later part of the book, allowing readers to familiarize themselves with the context in which the story is set to the point (almost) of forgetting the book is a memoir.

Chalabi seems to struggle most of all with the connection to her grandmother, Bibi. She finds herself attracted to many of the same social figures Bibi was drawn to, despite the fact that many of these figures are long dead. Bibi seems to represent true roots in the story. Although she lived in exile for many years, Bibi always remained faithfully and authentically Iraqi. Chalabi’s own story is written across the borders of many countries, and her ultimate search for how these different identities culminate within her is the crux of the book.

In Late for Tea at the Deer Palace, readers are forced to confront the pitfalls of memoir, fraught as it is with inaccuracies and inconsistencies. While Chalabi successfully conveys the nature of her family members without excessive emotion, the conversations, actions, and reactions are keenly specific, calling their accuracy into question. Because of this, readers should take into account the capacity for misinterpretation and incongruous versions of the same story while they are reading.

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace provides readers with remarkable insight into a culture with which many of us are unfamiliar. Sure, we have the media portrayal of life in the Middle East; we know what the television tells us. But in reading Chalabi’s book, readers will be able to put a face on the conflict we’ve heard about and read about for so long. Chalabi’s account is personal and leaves readers with a sense of the way humanity is affected both by conflict and by the search to figure out who we are.

A Lovely Day For a Surprise

Every now and then it becomes necessary to break the routine and make someone’s day just a little bit better. That’s what happened for me this morning, and that’s what I hope to do for the others you’ll see listed below.

Laura Stanfill has shared with me the Versatile Blogger Award. Laura’s blog deals with writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading. Her posts help me not only to be motivated sometimes, but also to find inspiration when I feel it is lacking. I couldn’t have found a more wonderful surprise when I checked my blog this morning. Thank you, Laura. You helped my day to start off on the right foot.

Now, with this award, I need to:

-Thank the awarder and link back to her blog (or his, whatever the case may be)

-Share seven things about myself

-And pass this award on to fifteen blogs I’ve recently discovered

Easy, right? We’ll see. So here goes:

7 Things

  • I still like to buy those gallon-size bottles of bubbles at Wal-Mart during the summer time.
  • I like to dance when no one is looking, although I’m really, really bad at it.
  • I have two dogs, and they are my absolute besties. They have to be; they know too much about me.
  • I have a party in my mind every time I check my blog and see that someone actually read it.
  • I love farmers’ markets. It saddens me that they are ending for the season.
  • I am a very passionate person. If I take up your cause, whatever it may be, I will see it through to the end, and it will seem like the only thing that matters.
  • I am a fierce friend. When I allow someone into my life, that person becomes family. I feel a deeply entrenched sense of loyalty, sometimes to my own detriment.

Now, I’m still scouring the blogosphere to find writers with interests similar to my own. And to find those that make me laugh. Or feel better about my humanity. The blogs you see here are some that have provided inspiration, amusement, motivation, and a general sense of community. Here goes:

Bekah the Merrymaker- Bekah’s blog deals specifically with fashion. She’s one of the sassiest, hippest, coolest people I know, and even though I can never hope to achieve the same level of ensemble awesomeness that Bekah has, her blog still gives me an insight into new ways of doing (and wearing) things.

Kate Shrewsday- Kate possesses talent I only wish I had. She blogs about her life, but she writes in a way that makes even an ordinary day in the garden into a fabulous story. She includes a lot of history in her posts, which I find to be fascinating because she doesn’t use the boring stuff, the stuff of textbooks. She provides little insights into lesser known (to me anyway) historical characters.

A.P. Alessandri- I enjoy this blog because its author and I have a lot in common, particularly when it comes to genre of interest. She writes personal essay and memoir, which is what I aspire to do someday.

Valerie Fletcher Adolph- Val’s blog You’re a Writer! has been really helpful for me. I find inspiration both in her posts and in her accomplishments.

Presents of Mind- I also feel like I have a lot in common with this blogger. From trying to figure out my own process to admiring the processes of others, it always feels good to know that we’re not alone.

Monica’s Tangled Web- I really like how Monica writes her story, things that are happening or have happened in her life. I also really enjoy her style of writing. The tone keeps me engaged.

Easy Reading is Damned Hard Writing- If you’ve ever experienced the fatigue of writing, how true is that?! I like that this blog explores the complexity of being successful when it comes to conveying emotion and human nature.

Jen Farhat- Jen’s style is straightforward and to the point. Her style and tone are honest, making her blog refreshing. It’s nice to read someone who isn’t pandering to anyone in particular.

Nothing to Read Here- This blog is new to me, but I’m really enjoying it. Once again, part of the awesomeness that is the blogosphere is that we get to interact with people who are like we are. This blog is honest in that its author embraces his potential for growth and expansion.

Monique- The concept of this blog is completely awesome! The stories are entertaining, and they have a way of drawing the reader back to the blog. Awesome!

I realize that I am five blogs short of fifteen. I’m not so terrible at math that I can’t figure that. However, I am limited on time right now. I’ll try to feature one new blogger every couple of days to make up for the shortage. In the meantime, check these folks out. They really are worth the read!

Thanks again to Laura for passing on the honor!