One of the benefits of a book club – my club members remind us of this benefit all the time – is discovering novels, writers, non-fiction, and poetry, we might never have considered. If I tried to list all the books I have read, only because a fellow member recommended them, I would drown in the tsunami of books that followed some of these writers. The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak is the latest addition to this ever growing flood.
Elif has won awards, she is a bestseller, and – more importantly – the most widely-read author in Turkey. She is also a champion of women’s rights and freedom of expression. No small tasks in today’s Turkey. Apprentice is her seventh novel, and you know what that means to my voracious collecting habits. She has been translated into more than 40 languages, and she currently divides her time between Istanbul and London. You will hear about Shafak from me again.
When I first started to read this novel, my mind instantly flashed back to Jose Saramago’s wonderful tale, The Elephant’s Journey. Saramago based his novel on an historical event that occurred in the 16th century. King João III of Portugal has decided to present his cousin, Archduke Maximilian of Vienna, an elephant, Solomon, as a wedding present. The mahout, Subhro, who cares for the beast in a broken down corner of the king’s zoo, guides the elephant and a troop of workers and soldiers, on a trek across Europe during the Reformation and amid various conflicts.
Shafak’s tale is of an magnificent white elephant, named Chota, sent from India to Istanbul and the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. A twelve-year-old boy, Jahan, befriends Chota and becomes his mahout. His life changes when he meets the Sultan’s daughter, Princess Mihrimah, and together they are spellbound by the elephant and each other. Jahan begins his education in the palace, and comes to the notice of Mimar Sinan, the empire’s chief architect. Mimar Sinan, an historical figure, built some of the most spectacular buildings in the empire,many of which still stand. Jahan becomes one of Sinan’s four apprentices. Even in this close group, danger lurks.
When I first opened this 416-page work, I hoped I would be able to finish in time for our club meeting. I sat down on a Thursday afternoon and quickly read 75 pages. By Sunday afternoon, I barely had 40 left – it really and truly was that good. The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak is a tale as splendid as the mosques, palaces, and other buildings Jahan and Mimar designed and built together. A must read! 5 stars.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
One of my guilty pleasures was the Chelsea Handler Show. The humor was rough, and she held nothing back in expressing her views on politics, religion, sports, or a myriad of other targets of her caustic wit. Her books are largely autobiographical, and she doesn’t even spare her own family. Her recent book, Uganda Be Kidding Me hilariously describes her trip to East Africa. I laughed so hard, my face hurt. Here is Chelsea’s description of the beginning of their flight to Africa. She writes, “I was asleep before the plane even took off. I had told the pilot I was pregnant and suffering from severe motion sickness, and after he agreed to let me turn mu chair into a bed, I ordered one more Bloody Mary, popped a Xanax, and woke up in Dubai. // I like to sleep as much as possible. I like to sleep on planes primarily to avoid technology. My grasp of electronics is commensurate to my grasp of the moon; I’m unclear as to how either arrived at its current status. Nor do I have the attention span or wherewithal to make heads or tails of why I’m so far behind the general populace in accepting the theory of space and time, and its relevance to my own life. On a side note: I find most astronauts to be class A narcissists” (13). I have serious doubts about the levels of her alcohol and drug consumption. I cannot imagine she would be able to function as she does if it were all true.
Chelsea Handler’s Uganda Be Kidding Me is not for everyone, but certainly for her legions of fans, among whom I count myself. 5 stars.