With architecture as its central motif, Elif Shafak’s novel “The Architect’s Apprentice” is a gripping page-turner that blends mystery with Ottoman history and Turkish folklore, combining the great heights of the Ottoman Sultanate with the desolation of poverty, war, imprisonment and the plight of the nomad.

Elif Shafak, who has been described as a “writer on the edge of her culture,” is not afraid to confront difficult questions. Ms. Shafak has penned notable fiction such as “The Bastard of Istanbul,” about the Armenian genocide, for which she was prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness.” Her nonfiction work “Black Milk” is a meditation on the conflicting demands of writing, motherhood and creativity.

Her 10th book follows the career of Mimar Sinan, the Royal Architect to the Ottoman Sultans during the 16th century and mastermind behind the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia renovation, and countless mosques, hospitals, schools and aqueducts.

At the center of the novel is a beautiful white elephant who, Ms. Shafak imagines, not only assisted in the construction of architectural feats, but provided occasional transportation to the Royal Architect and even the Sultan himself.