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Book Review: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World - Elif Shafak

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Title: 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds In This Strange World
Author: Elif Shafak
Publisher: Penguin UK (10 July 2019)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Price: Rs. 699 on Amazon
Pages: 320

There are some authors you can trust blindly. More than their stories, you like them for the way they write. For the way it touches your soul. For the poetic beauty it possesses. For the picture it paints in your mind. For the spark it leaves behind. For the relatability. For the much needed human touch. Elif Shafak is one such writer. After 'The Forty Rules Of Love', this is her second book that I read. I still have to catch up on all her other books and I soon will.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World is the story of Tequila Leila, a prostitute in Istanbul, who now lies dead in a dumpster waiting for someone to discover her body. They say that after the heart stops beating, the brain stays alive for over 10 Minutes. This is the first part of the story, The Mind. This is followed by the second part, The Body and the third, The Soul.

The Mind details each minute of Leila's final ten. Memories are replayed enhanced by fragrance, flavors, sounds and sights. Be it the fragrance of cardamom coffee, the sweet sticky smell of lemon and sugar or the aromatic lamb stew, these are all related to pivotal episodes of Leila's life and these flashbacks piece together Leila's back story beautifully. The pain of being born in a childless family that was looking forward to the birth of a son, the pain of being torn away from her birth mother, the pain for being abused by her uncle, the pain of having no one believe her; it all made Leila the person that she was. Her transition from Leyla to Leila, is totally justified. She's incomplete in so many ways. Until she meets The Five. Five people she meets in different situations of her life, who later become the family she never had.

Nostalgia Nalan, Sabotage Sinan, Hollywood Humeyra, Jameelah and Zaynab122; The Five. While their characters and their loyalty towards Leila is established in the first part, they take over the narrative in the second, The Body. This is when they are looking for a presumed missing Leila and later find her body. The go out of their way to ensure that she is given a decent burial even if it means that they have to exhume her body from one graveyard to take it to another. This, according to me, was the weakest link of the story. This whole sequence seems dangerously contrived and silly. While her friends wanting to give her a memorable send-off is all heart, the way it comes out is almost caricaturish. The other weak link in this story is Leila's love story. D/Ali needed a more concrete back story and Leila and Ali's story needed a little more depth.

The third part, The Soul, at just seven pages is all about freeing Leila's soul. I wanted to read more here. While Leila is the heroine of the book, the hero is undoubtedly the city of Istanbul. "If Paris was the city of love, Jerusalem the city of God, and Las Vegas the city of sin, Istanbul was the city of multitasking". The author couldn't have said it more beautifully. The vivid descriptions, the colors, the smoke, the people; everything comes to life here. Istanbul is celebrated throughout the book in all its good and bad glory. The writing is poetic and beautiful. I never wanted it to end. Shafak's writing brings out ample emotions and lets it consume you. Leila's murder, while not entirely justified, talks about the beliefs that others possess and how far they are willing to go to keep it up. The story goes on to show that we are all victims of our circumstances, but what we can do with the cards dealt to us is totally left to us.

A betta fish is used as scene separator in the book and it took me a while to understand its significance. A blue betta fish, kept in a bowl in the house where Leila is born, is released upon the birth of this long-awaited baby. The betta symbolizes individuality, solitude, strength, freedom, beauty, and defiant spirit, all of which are double-edged swords for Leila. She leaves her house for this, and in the end this is what takes away her life. In a way life comes full circle for Leila, when the fish reappears at the end.

This book was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize and lost to Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It is a pity because I have been reading the latter for the past month and I'm yet to cross 50 pages. This on the other hand, I finished in a single sitting.

Verdict: Beautiful premise and excellent writing. It does have its flaws, yes, but it definitely must be read

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

I read this book as part of the #TBRChallenge2020 for prompt 10 - A free hit.


Linking up with Shalini for the #TBRChallenge2020.

Add your March 2020 book reviews to the linky. You can add multiple posts to the linky. They can be a blog post or Instagram posts. They should however have a brief review of the book chosen for the prompt.


  1. Sounds pretty good from what you say. I have read Tulika's review too and this is almost similar to that. I am looking forward to reading this book whenever I will be able to lay my hand on it.

  2. I've been keeping Elif Shafak in my wishlist this year. I love the cover pages of the books and it is wonderfully designed. I am gifting this book to a friend. Your review is apt as always and makes us take the book right out of the shelf and start reading. Happy Reading, Sou! P.S: Your artwork used as background for the books are beautiful and I wish you do more of it during this lockdown.


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