SINAN by Arthur Stratton


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In Sinan, his latest and worst book (cf. The Great Red Island, 1964; One Man's India, 1955; etc.), Arthur Stratton bombards the reader's mind into overstuffed paralysis with uninflected details of 16th century Turkish court life, royal intrigues, attempted coups, and sultry brouhahas. The narrative maintains the pace of a stationary boulder. One of the difficulties lies with the titular character's dullness -- Sinan abdur-Mennan (1489-1588), the great Moslem builder and town planner who was Royal Chief Architect to two sultans, drifts in, now out, of these pages, a man who invested his life not in people but the ""solider substances of stonemasonry""; his chief assets appear to have been longevity and adaptability: born a Christian Greek, he came to represent the best in Islamic architecture; he worked equally well with Selim I (a tyrant), Suleyman I (the Magnificent), and Selim II (the Sot -- a plump drunk). Actually little is known about Sinan and Stratton must invent as he can, e.g., when Sinan in 1580 delegates some work, we get ""He may have done so because of a period of illness; perhaps he had fallen, say, from a scaffolding. Perhaps, even, he had suffered a small heart attack."" Stratton revisits Sinan's many extant buildings, including the outstanding Imperial Friday Mosques (he particularly admires the Sot's temple: ""Whatever a dome is, this is a dome""); and he gingerly disparages Byzantine influences on Sinan (students of the Haghia Sophia might take exception). There is too much misty architectural criticism here, too much extraneous speculation about Sinan's dreary life, and too, too much historical trivia about the period.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Scribners