Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak

The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak
First published in Turkey in 2013.

I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing

How I got this book:
Bought from a Torquay charity shop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sixteenth century Istanbul: a stowaway arrives in the city bearing an extraordinary gift for the Sultan. The boy is utterly alone in a foreign land, with no worldly possessions to his name except Chota, a rare white elephant destined for the palace menagerie.

So begins an epic adventure that will see young Jahan rise from lowly origins to the highest ranks of the Sultan's court. Along the way he will meet deceitful courtiers and false friends, gypsies, animal tamers, and the beautiful, mischievous Princess Mihrimah. He will journey on Chota's back to the furthest corners of the Sultan's kingdom and back again. And one day he will catch the eye of the royal architect, Sinan, a chance encounter destined to change Jahan's fortunes forever.

Filled with all the colour of the Ottoman Empire, when Istanbul was the teeming centre of civilisation, The Architect's Apprentice is a magical, sweeping tale of one boy and his elephant caught up in a world of wonder and danger.

The Architect's Apprentice is a beautifully rich novel of sixteenth century Istanbul. It is loosely based around genuine people living in Istanbul at the time - the Sultans existed as did the chief architect, Sinan - however our young hero Jahan is an invention. Shafak says in her afterword that she was inspired to write this novel on seeing a painting of the Sultan. He dominates the picture's foreground, but a boy and his elephant can be seen standing uncertain of themselves in the background. I was amazed at such a detailed story being created from so small a prompt!

Chota, the elephant, often scene-steals the story from Jahan and the rest of the human characters. Istanbul itself is also a strong presence and I appreciated being able to view so many different aspects of the city as it was hundreds of years ago. Jahan finds himself in the midst of the royal palace, but without any status himself which is an interesting contrast. My criticism of The Architect's Apprentice would be that I didn't feel Jahan matured and aged as the others around him did. To me he still seemed to act as a boy even when I was being told that his hair was greying. Except for this though, I loved this book. It doesn't have the political argument of my previous Shafak novel, Three Daughters Of Eve, but it's a good story set in a fascinating city.

Etsy Find!
by Authentics By Silu in
Florida, USA

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Books by Elif Shafak / Historical fiction / Books from Turkey


  1. you gotta love where a unique kind of character like Chota and the stetting steal the spotlight :) this sounds like such a magical story!

    1. It's almost fairytale-like at times, but Chota isn't as scene-stealy as Manchee, the dog in The Knife Of Never Letting Go!