REVIEW : 10 MINUTES 38 SECONDS IN THIS STRANGE WORLD

Dawn is about to break and Tequila Leila’s dead body is in a metal rubbish bin. When her heart has stopped and skin turned grayish white, “She recalled things she did not even know she was capable of remembering, things she has believed to be lost forever”.

Elif Shafak’s latest novel, ’10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World’ has taken into account a study which shows that the human brain can remain active as along as 10 minutes 38 seconds after the heart stops beating. The novel has been shortlisted for The Booker Prize 2019 and chosen as one of the six best written novels in English in 2019.

Immediately after her death, Leila’s mind replays her whole life chronologically; incidents and people represented by distinct smells and tastes.

Born with her mother as the aunt, and the aunt as the mother, Leyla takes her first breath through a conflict between the heart and the gut; a conflict which never really ceases throughout her life.

As her father gets more and more austere and the truths and lies all jumble up, Leyla leaves her home- the storytelling tiles and the pegions on the roof, the day her little brother dies.

Once again, Shafak has painted Istanbul with arresting colours- from deep fried muzzles to the Cemetery of the Companionless, from the opening of the grand Bosphorus bridge to the portrait of Sultan Abdulaziz behind Bitter Ma’s desk.

But as soon as she reaches Istanbul, Leila realises “Istanbul was an illusion. A magician’s trick gone wrong”. At 16, she’s sold to a brothel, where she spends the last three decades of her life, under the supervision of Sweet Ma.

As Tequila Leila lies there, cramped in a bin, dead, she remembers her five friends, her ‘water family’:

Nostalgia Nalan, with her almond eyes looking up at Leila from the windows of the furniture workshop.

Sabotage Sinan, with a hero hidden deep within him, in a house overlooking the cemetery in Van.

Jameelah, who gave her a bracelet made of strings in shades of purple, Leila’s colours.

Zaynab122, who read Leila’s coffee cups everyday and successfully divined her marriage.

Hollywood Humeyra, singing ballads of Mesopotamia with a car with broken ribs in her arms.

When finally these five get to know about Leila’s fate, they wait at the morgue for hours only to be informed she’s already been buried.

Being the companions that they were, the five made sure that after the halwa was made and Mr. Chaplin fed, their Leila is reunited with ‘the blue betta fish that had been released into the creek in Van on the day she was born”.

The novel has two halves: the first half depicting Leila’s life and the second half, the aftermath of Leila’s death. Although very different, the narration of both the halves are brilliantly vivid, united with thrill.

Each of the main characters in the book are an outcast in some way or the other; and thus is a highly sensitive read, addressing rape, prostitution, human trafficking, acid attacks and more.

Once again, Shafak has painted Istanbul with arresting colours- from deep fried muzzles to the Cemetery of the Companionless, from the opening of the grand Bosphorus bridge to the portrait of Sultan Abdulaziz behind Bitter Ma’s desk.

The novel as a whole is very moving with bravery, inclusiveness and compassion. It is hard to put the book down even once with its perfectly honest portrayal.

5 thoughts on “REVIEW : 10 MINUTES 38 SECONDS IN THIS STRANGE WORLD

    1. I’m mostly into magical realism, and family sagas set in the backdrop of wars or other threats. I also love books that describe the place where the book is set, and Elif Shafak is perfect for that!
      I also really like dystopian reads.. The list is never ending really!

      Like

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