Set in 16th century Istanbul, woven with well-known historical facts and fiction, “The Architect’s Apprentice” is a novel of architects and their apprentices, magnificent monuments, and an elephant. Elif Shafak, the famous Turkish writer is well known for mixing Western literature with Eastern history. In this novel, she has constructed a marvelous Istanbul, full of intrigue, beauty, and danger.
The story takes place with an epic life journey of 12-year-old Jahan, who escapes his abusive stepfather in India & sneaks on a ship to Istanbul with his elephant Chota, who’s being sent as a gift to Sultan Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire from the Indian Emperor. By the twist of faith, Jahan ends up being one of the four apprentices to the royal chief architect Sinan (historical architect). Together with the master, the four apprentices and Chota build the city of Istanbul to its glory.
In the 90 years of Jahan’s life, he takes countless expeditions; at times riding Chota for celebratory parades and other times in battles against other empires, he finds Sultan’s favor and loses it too. As the architect’s apprentice, he plays his part in the construction of countless magnificent buildings, gets thrown into prison, narrowly escapes death, visits Rome to meet Michelangelo (Italian architect/painter), and survives the great plague.
This entire journey is full of emotions and excitement as well as disappointments and sorrows. Here I would like to appreciate how the writer has developed characters just by the mere use of words. The way they are compassionate, loving, and jealous at times is just too real but it lacks the trill to push you to keep turning pages. The plot was slow going, therefore I recommend when reading, be prepared to give this book your time and don’t expect many things to happen at once. What I enjoyed about the book is the historical era of the Old Ottoman Empire, what it meant for an architect to build and destroy their own masterpieces. How there is a reflection of the architect in their works and creating a minor imperfection, for God is the only glorified creator of perfections. The book picked up the momentum in the end as it gets interesting and at the same time, you will find how meaningful it is.
The best part about this novel is its imaginative writing style. You will definitely find yourself taken to places through the Elif’s words. I could literally imagine the mosques, menageries, or even the streets of Istanbul. I wish it could be turned into a movie as it is very cinematic. The architecture and splendor mentioned in the book are absolutely astonishing. I hope that Elif Shafak comes up with its sequel as she leaves the reader hooked in the end with Shah Jahan and the story of the Taj Mahal.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Dunya News’ editorial stance.