The Architect's Apprentice: A Novel
By Elif Shafak
2015, Viking, 978-0-52542-797-1, $27.95 hb.
Reviewed by Louis Werner on January 31, 2016
This is the semi-historical story of the Ottoman architect Sinan (d. 1588) and his hundreds of mosques and other works in Istanbul and beyond, seen through the eyes of Jahan, a mahout caring for an elephant intended as a war machine but used instead at busy construction sites in the imperial city. Jahan has a lifelong crush on Suleiman the Magnificent's beloved daughter, Princess Mihrimah, while he works as Sinan's most trusted assistant. Without meaning to, the naive Jahan upsets the order of the entire court, bumping into everyone from the grand vizier and chief eunuch to the royal menagerie’s bear and lion tamers. The author ably imbues her work with flavors reminiscent of those in her compatriot Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red, telling multiple stories that dare not be disbelieved even when historical characters meet fictional counterparts in a backdrop based on the eyewitness accounts of 16th-century Istanbul by diplomat Ogier Ghiselan de Busbecq and traveler Evliya Çelebi. And to anyone who appreciates Sinan's exquisitely understated mosque dedicated to Mihrimah more than his grandiose masterpieces the Suleimaniye and Selimiye, Jahan's unrequited romance provides its personal blueprint, however fictionalized it may be.