cover image The Architect's Apprentice

The Architect's Apprentice

Elif Shafak. Viking, $27.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-525-42797-1

Shafak's (The Bastard of Istanbul) rambling historical epic weaves its way through the rule of three sultans in 16th-century Istanbul. Twelve-year-old Jahan arrives in the city alone except for an important gift for the Sultan that he has been entrusted with by the Shah of India%E2%80%94a baby white elephant named Chota. Jahan is quickly taken in by the palace seraglio to be Chota's trainer and caretaker, and so begins his new life in the center of the flourishing Ottoman Empire. After a year in the palace, he and Chota are ordered to assist the army in an upcoming war.On this tour that he meets Sinan, Chief Royal Architect, who is impressed by the boy's intelligence and curiosity and arranges for him to receive a palace education. Eventually, Jahan is given a coveted position as Sinan's apprentice. With three others, he studies architecture and works at construction sites, helping their master build some of the most celebrated buildings in the history of the empire. Jahan works with his beloved master for many years and witnesses disastrous plagues, the intricate dance between religious and political power, and the anxiety of changing regimes. All the while, he nurtures a secret love for Princess Mihrimah, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of Sultan Suleiman. Shafak's ambitious and colorful novel loses momentum at times, but she skillfully uses the fictional elephant trainer to paint a vivid portrait of the great architect, Sinan, and the lives of both royals and commoners. (Mar.)