10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

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.

Cover image for 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

Elif Shafak

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