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10 minutes 38 seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak. Book review

Book cover of 10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world

In this novel we follow the last 10 minutes and 38 seconds of prostitute Tequila Leila’s death. Each minute brings a new remembrance through the tastes and smells associated with Turkish life. Woven within these intense memories are Leila’s group of very different friends who, like her, are all outcasts. Friends who are not likely to forget her no matter what.

10 minutes 38 seconds is a joyful riot of a book, which might be a strange thing to say because it is obvious from the get-go how the novel will end with regards to Leyla Afife Kamile Akarsu (or Tequila Leila), for whom it would appear life has been less than fair.

But this novel is not so much a tale of woe and death as a celebration of Leila’s colourful life, and the wonders of a woman who formed the hub of several close friends. Together this group of outcasts (made so for very different reasons) form a warm and loving community in a place as vibrant and colourful as this story. I became attached to every one of them and it is difficult to pick out a favourite in the group because each of their unique characters had something interesting to offer a reader. It was wonderful being a fly on the wall of their backstories and supportive interactions.

Elif Shafak covers a great deal of ground in terms of breadth of this story, which is as generous as its main protagonist in the richness of the world she experiences and creates around her, despite her misfortunes. We start in Leila’s childhood rural home then move to Istanbul.

There were many sad moments, but also many that had me laughing out loud, particularly towards the end.

10 Minutes brought to life the smells, sounds and customs of Turkish life, as well as how Leila and all her misfit friends lived within it.

I really enjoyed my immersion into Istanbul and the key historical events through which this larger than life fictional character lived. As a result of reading this book I spent a great deal of time online looking these events up. Now I have become much better acquainted with some of Istanbul’s recent history and want to find out more.

10 minutes 38 seconds in this Strange World was courtesy of Viking via NetGalley.