Feb -2022 - The Architect's Apprentice - Elif Shafak

Bookgroup 1 - February 2022 Review


The Architect’s Apprentice

by Elif Shafak


Set in the mid 16th century in Istanbul, Turkish author Elif Shafak spins an epic tale that stretches over half a century, beginning with the arrival of twelve year old Jahan and a white elephant by the name of Chota.


Chota has been sent to Istanbul to live in the court menagerie of Sultan Suleiman with Jahan as his mahout.  The story continues with Jahan falling in love with Princess Mihrimah, the Sultan’s daughter, and Jahan’s acquaintance with Sinan, the Royal Architect who takes Jahan under his wing. Jahan, together with the three other apprentices, is involved in the construction of many of Sinan’s beautiful mosques and other buildings.


The story then follows Jahan and Chota through life at the Royal Court, including romance and intrigue, jealousy and betrayal.


This is a book of the genre ‘Historical Fiction’. Many of the characters and places did in fact exist, although not in a strict chronological order. The author instead created her own timeline with actual historical events absorbed into it.  Most of us in the group were somewhat confused by the way the story was constructed.

Immediately following the prologue is the description of an incident which takes place much later in the story.  While the book proceeds with the rather interesting story of Jahan’s arrival in Istanbul it starts to lose momentum as the story continues. There are many chapters which seem disconnected, leaving the reader wondering about their significance.  This slow pace continues until much later when it suddenly picks up and the reader becomes curious to find out what happens next.

Three main themes are running through the book like a thread, namely architecture, religion and love, and how they are connected.


Apart from these there are many more different issues addressed by the author which we found slightly overwhelming, almost as if she had taken on too much to properly deal with.


There are also parts and characters in the book reminiscent of fairy tales and magic and in the midst of all this there is always Chota, the White elephant who means everything to Jahan and who represents love, warmth and constancy.  We all agreed that the relationship between Jahan and Chota is one of the most significant parts of the book.


But as it very often happens in our Book Group discussions, we figured out a possible purpose of all these various aspects in the story.

Perhaps Elif Shafak wanted to show the complexity of humanity, the beautiful and the ugly, the lies and betrayals, the power of some and the defeat of others.

It shows aspects of life which were present then and which are still present now.


Elif Shafak’s writing is beautiful in language and description.

There are some passages and statements which are so beautiful and true that you would want to remember them.


‘The Architect’s Apprentice’ may not be the ideal book for a book group discussion but it is definitely worth reading and all of us in the group would recommend it just for the nice book that it is.


Marianne Khor