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Book Review : The Architect's Apprentice

Book Title: The Architect's Apprentice
Author: Elif Shafak
Genre: Historical Fiction / Architectural Fiction
ISBN Code: 9780241004920
Publisher : Viking (Penguin Books)
Publication : 2014
Pages : 452
Binding : Paperback

Plot :
An epic tale spanning nearly a century in the life of the Ottoman Empire. 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.

A memorable story of artistic freedom, creativity, and the clash between science and fundamentalism, Shafak’s intricate novel brims with vibrant characters, intriguing adventure, and the lavish backdrop of the Ottoman court, where love and loyalty are no match for raw power.


My Rating: ☆☆☆

Review :
Okay, so I love buying books at the airport - because I feel, at the airport, you just might come across a title, which you wont normally find in most book shops. And thus, I stumbled upon this book. Truthfully, I bought this book for one reason and one reason only - the book title. Yes, the book title - being an architect, it was one of those books, that I had to, had to, had to read!
Anyways, book bought, at my boarding gate, finding a seat, I sit down and turn the book around to read what's the whole book about and I truly wasn't disappointed - for it promised to be a great read, what with discussing architectural marvels and secrets hidden - I knew I hadn't made a mistake with this book.
I start reading the book, the first chapter - a flurry of activities - to reveal a secret, a secret of deaths. I knew, this book was going to be an amazing read. And then I read further. Frame changed to the past - I knew, the background buildup was necessary for the story to properly unfold. So I kept my patience and I kept reading.
But then, it just dragged on and on. Somethings were discussed in grave detail, I mean the work in progress. Being an architect, that was fine with me - for I enjoy reading about how the structures were erected. But it was still a drag - I was waiting for that bang - the secret I was promised. But it didn't come.
All I got were few incidents here and there, which at that point felt insignificant - for they just highlighted, how difficult a task it was to construct buildings, how many problems one could face, how much resistance there could be - but it was no secret to me - being in the profession, having worked in the industry - so where was my secret?

*Spoiler Alert*

The secret came out in last 100 - 150 pages of the book - where they finally connected these incidents to the mystery - but it still wasn't that great a mystery - just a distressed girl, taking revenge on her father, not realizing how it was affecting others.
And then fast forward to the protagonist's life after Istanbul - he constructed the Taj and hid his Lady Love's name amidst it. So was it the secret hidden beneath one of the stones? So was this, what the whole story was about? Was it the daughter's revenge that was the secret he was trying to hide?
Maybe to others, who have read the book, they understood the secret better than me. Maybe I still haven't arrived at the secret - but then what's the point, if reader at the end of the book is still unsure of whether he has arrived at the right end or is there more to it? That I pondered over it for a couple of days and moved on to next book, having forgotten about the unsure end I faced... That the book failed to leave a mark on me?
Another issue with the book - time frame! Yes, you don't realize how much time has went by - that the little boy of 12 is suddenly grown up, and that he is old now. It just keeps on moving ahead and ahead and ahead without any time reference and then you are left a little more confused than you already were.
Yes the book, hooked me to itself in the beginning when I was trying to figure out what happened next. Yes I was hooked, when I was reading those last 100 odd pages. But did I enjoy the book, as much as I had anticipated - not really. Probably what I was looking forward to was a combination of the essence of 'The Fountainhead' and 'Robert Langdon' books - as in something revolutionary being taught by the architect to his apprentices down the line of secret messages hidden in various architectural elements - maybe!
Maybe, to you, to the next reader who picks up this book, maybe the mystery will unfold itself better - maybe I lack the understanding of the mystery - maybe it wasn't that grave a mystery for me. But it still turned into a disappointment for me - the book.
So, if you do pick up this book, I wish you luck and like always, I wish you...


Happy Reading!

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