10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

Elif Shafak

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
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10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

Elif Shafak

‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away … ’

Our brains stay active for ten minutes after our heart stops beating.

For Tequila Leila, each minute brings with it a new memory: growing up with her father and his two wives in a grand old house in a quiet Turkish town; watching the women gossip and wax their legs while the men went to mosque; sneaking cigarettes and Western magazines on her way home from school; running away to Istanbul to escape an unwelcome marriage; falling in love with a student who seeks shelter from a riot in the brothel where she works.

Most importantly, each memory reminds Leila of the five friends she met along the way - the friends who are now desperately trying to find her. 


In the last few minutes of her life, Leila’s mind begins to recall some of the most important moments of her existence. Each moment is accompanied by the distinct memory of an exquisite food and the personal events that are attached to that food. Chapter by chapter, dish by dish, we learn of the events that have shaped Leila’s short but eventful life. Some of the events are terrible and unthinkable, while others are sweet and full of hope.

Importantly, we learn the personal histories of Leila’s five closest friends and how they came to meet. 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World takes us from Leila’s birth to her untimely death, weaving a rich narrative that follows her from far-east Turkey all the way to Istanbul and is dotted with important events that helped shaped the country in the late twentieth century.

I have now read a number of Elif Shafak’s novels and 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds is one of her finest. Her writing is beautiful and complex, yet easy to read. Her descriptions of Istanbul and Turkish food are so vivid you can imagine how they must look, smell and taste. Shafak also uses her narratives to push at important (and sometimes controversial) points in Turkish history, highlighting the deep and complex events that have shaped it, and its many distinct cultures that have thrived. I enjoyed reading this novel so much. Despite the many injustices that occur throughout the story, it does not end with a sense of hopelessness. Instead it leaves the reader with feelings of having learnt something new about this country.

Julia Gorman works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton and Readings Kids.

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