The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak – review

The architect's apprenticeThe architect’s apprentice by Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak is Turkey’s most successful female novelist and it is well worth reading this wonderful book, published this year.

Mimar Sinan is the Turkish (real) historical architect of the title. He created more than 90 mosques, 50 schools, 20 mausoleums, six aqueducts, 10 bridges, 36 palaces and 48 hamams, or Turkish baths. These are detailed along the way in this ambitious story, giving it ‘scale, style and silhouette’. The novel is set between 1546 and 1632, and spans a period almost as long as Sinan’s life (he died at the age of 99).

His fictional apprentice is Jahan, a 12 year old Indian boy, who travelled as a stowaway and has arrived at the Topkapi Palace in 16th-century Istanbul with a white elephant as a gift for the sultan. Whispers in the palace gardens and secret journeys through Istanbul lead Jahan to Mihrimah, the beautiful Princess. Still under her spell, he is promoted from simple Mahut to apprentice of the Grand Master Architect, Sinan – when his fortunes take a mysterious change

Through chance, the boy and the animal become indispensable, and these three characters are employed to tell not only the tale of their own lives but the story of Istanbul as it grows to become the dominant showcase of the Ottoman Empire.