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10 Minutes 38 seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak | Book Review |

Having read The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, I had a great many expectations from this book. Happy to say I was not disappointed at all. This book has been shortlisted for the Booker award.

I had picked up reading or rather listening to this book on the Audible for the book prompt of the TBRCHALLENGE2020#6 a book picked up on the recommendation of a fellow blogger/reviewer. 

Title: 10 Minutes 38 seconds in this Strange World

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Viking

Author: Elif Shafak

Born in Strasbourg, France in 1971, Elif Shafak is a very popular female Turkish writer who loves to incorporate her cultural nuances into her stories which are generally woven around women and their issues while growing up in an Islamic state. She writes fiction in English and Turkish and has been translated into over 40 languages. She has been awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. Shafak has written over 13 books, including The Bastard of Istanbul, Black Milk, The Architect’s Apprentice and The Honour.

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The story begins and we realize our narrator is a corpse lying in a dumpster, somewhere in the city of Istanbul. She identifies herself as Tequila Leila, prostitute extraordinaire and is amazed to find herself dead yet being able to recall scents, tastes and a plethora of memories related to them which actually tell is about her in general.

The scientists believe that the brain of a dead body remains functioning for a full 10 minutes and 38 seconds before lapsing into inactivity. They wonder what would be the last thoughts, if any, of the dying brain. Is there a pattern to the thoughts or memories that break through or does it lie, observing the world passing by.

With every passing minute Leila slips into her treasure of memories and retraces  all that’s happened to her since being born.

Her childhood, the people in it, their relationship with her, the incidents that make her leave home and never see her family again form the first chapter of her story. She is sexually abused by her uncle who convinces her that she is immoral and to blame for this. Her father then decides to marry her off, underage though she is.

“No one can survive alone – except the Almighty God. And remember, in the desert of life, the fool travels alone and the wise by caravan.”― Elif Shafak, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

Next comes her running away from home, being robbed in a strange city and then being lulled into prostitution which she actually takes to with great equanimity.

She recalls the five friends she makes in her lifetime and then the backstory of each one of them and how they came into her life and what they bought with them.

At one point she is convinced that they would be worried about her and will breakdown on seeing her dead body.

“Getting through life as unscathed as possible depended to a large extent on two fundamental principles: knowing the right time to arrive and knowing the right time to leave.”― Elif Shafak, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

Once Leila’s brain activity ceases, it’s over to her five friends who one by one go through their life story and how Leila made a difference in their life. They still cannot believe that she is gone, murdered by someone intent to cleanse the world of sex workers.

They try to get her body back from the morgue but since they are not family and she was a sex worker, the authorities bury her in the Cemetery of the Companionless in Kylios which is at the outskirts of Istanbul.

Her friends find out her grave number, get a little drunk and then get down to a midnight adventure to dig her up and give her a proper burial.

A police chase ruins their plans and they are forced to throw her into the sea as one of her friends is convinced that’s what Leila would want. Also, they were in danger of being arrested for they would most certainly be charged with her murder, seeing they were casting her dead body in their car.

The tale draws to an end with all her five friends living together, courtesy of some huge upheavals in their lives post their adventure.

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Lasting impression on me:

10 minutes 38 seconds takes a scientific fact about a dead body and weaves it into telling the story of a person via a very unique perspective. For me this was the highlight of the plot as the story was nothing extraordinary by itself.

Elif Shafak embroiders her tale well, inset with some colorful characters with even more vivid lives who collaborate with our heroine to design a unique coterie of friendship that sticks together through sickness and sin. And her tone is poetical in almost every word, making for some superb quotes throughout the book.

“Slowly, dawn was breaking. Streaks of colour – peach bellinis, orange martinis, strawberry margaritas, frozen negronis – streamed above the horizon, east to west.”― Elif Shafak, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

Historical events, political thoughts and actual city landmarks are woven brilliantly through this fictional tale to give it a sheen of reality. One can empathize with the thought processes and identify with history throughout the story, making it an attention binding narration.

Also brilliant is how Shafak navigates through the religious boundaries of rigid traditions, tying them in the narrative of fictional reality with emphatic perspectives of her characters towards them.

Prostitution, sex change, social revolution, religious boundaries, migrants, oppression and moral policing – all enmesh with each other in a weird cacophony of liberation through rebellion as portrayed by the characters of this tale.

Then there is the vibrant city of Istanbul with its seductive labyrinths, oldest brothels, cultural face offs with the West and the dreams of all the dreamers it holds within it. Each running away from a reality towards an imagined perfection they hope to find here. Shafak has lovingly given a soul to the city, making her a twin protagonist in the tale. One cannot but help feel the need to visit this city now after reading the book.

“We must do what we can to mend our lives, we owe that to ourselves – but we need to be careful not to break others while achieving that.”― Elif Shafak, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

My rating:

This may sound like a depressing tale as its being narrated by a corpse but in fact its about hope and friendships. Its about how one should strive to live their life, no matter the obstacles. Its about living unapologetically and on one’s own terms.

My rating is a 4/5 stars for being an ordinary tale which was narrated in an extra ordinary manner. I enjoyed it thoroughly as an Audio book experience and now can safely say I am hooked to it. Yay for Audible.

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7 thoughts on “10 Minutes 38 seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak | Book Review |

  1. Oh, I would love to read this book! I haven’t yet read Forty Rules of Love…yes, I can imagine what I have missed. 🙁
    But, I am definitely going to read both these books ASAP!
    Thanks for this beautiful review, Shalz!

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