In 1540, twelve-year-old Jahan arrives in Istanbul. As an animal tamer in the sultan’s menagerie, he looks after the exceptionally smart elephant Chota and befriends (and falls for) the sultan’s beautiful daughter, Princess Mihrimah. A palace education leads Jahan to Mimar Sinan, the empire’s chief architect, who takes Jahan under his wing as they construct (with Chota’s help) some of the most magnificent buildings in history. Yet even as they build Sinan’s triumphant masterpieces — the incredible Suleymaniye and Selimiye mosques — dangerous undercurrents begin to emerge, with jealousy erupting among Sinan’s four apprentices.
I have been thinking about this book a lot lately, I read this book a while back in 2015 and was smitten by this book. Initially it took me a while to get in to the pace for this book, the starting was beautiful but in the middle somewhere around after a couple of chapters it just lost it’s pull. The book finally picked itself up after dragging on for a few chapters, and the magic that Elif Shafak weaves with her words just flows through the reader like a river.
It was such a beautifully powerful read, it includes all of my favorite topics: History, Fiction and Architecture.
As for someone who once hoped of becoming an Architect (I still hold on to that dream, though) this book is truly a treasure. Although it is a work of fiction, there is something about reading how Mimar Sinan (One of the greatest Architect in history) and his four apprentices worked on projects that became the most incredible masterpieces is truly riveting.
Jahan’s story is a very simple one, but if one looks closely it is a web of very fine material. The innocence and the love for the big white elephant makes one instantly attracted to the character.
Despite the slowness that implants itself in the book somewhere in the start of the middle, the book is truly something else. Taking the reader from the streets of India when the Mughal Emperor Humayun ruled, to the streets of Istanbul where Sultan Suleyman led his people valiantly; to the streets of Rome in order to pursue a task appointed to Jahan by the Chief Architect and to going in to battle with the white elephant Chotu along side the Sultan; Behind the walls of the castle, to all the way to gypsy quarters and the struggle that comes with being accepted, appreciated and all things in between.
Some of my favorite quotes:
“Some cities you go to because you want to; some cities you go to because they want you to.”
“It’s odd how faces, solid and visible as they are, evaporate, while words, made of breath, stay.”
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”