’10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World’ by Elif Shafak – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

An intensely powerful new novel from the best-selling author of The Bastard of Istanbul and Honour

‘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…’

For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .

My Review

This book has such moments of pure genius and honesty, and at times my heart felt so unbelievably full… However it also descended into somewhat of a farcical comedy during the course of Part Two so my feelings are very mixed.

The premise is utterly fascinating and is based on observations from a research paper published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences (link here) that found an instance of brain wave activity in a person declared clinically dead for 10 minutes 38 seconds post-death.

The novel takes this idea and uses these ten minutes and thirty eight seconds to explore the life of murder victim Tequila Leila in Part One, The Mind, as she experiences flashbacks of sort as her mind ultimately closes down after her untimely death.

Part One, The Mind, contained my favourite moments of the novel. We got to really get to know Leila. To understand her life’s journey. To follow her childhood through to her escape to Istanbul where she ended up working in a brothel. This section explored the concept of blood family versus found family as we met each of Leila’s five closest friends in turn and learned how much of an impact she had on their lives and vice versa. And also this section to me really discussed death in the most beautiful and natural of fashions. There was nothing to fear. Nothing was over played. I found it incredibly moving. I also loved how real historical events were incorporated into the storyline. How the book gave a real insight into what life was like in Istanbul especially during the 1960s and ’70s.

This whole section was just beautifully written and I was incredibly invested in the storyline.

But once the book moved onto Part Two, The Body, the narrative shifted to a much more frivolous style of writing. The book turned to the absurd and the poignancy of Leila’s death and life were lost to an almost slapstick comedy of errors as her five friends got caught up in a preposterous nighttime adventure as they endeavoured to bury her body.

This whole section just jarred so much with me that it nearly ruined the novel. It’s why I’m rating this book three stars and not four. Because where I was once moved by Leila and her story, I now found myself rolling my eyes at her five friends. And I think that along with the farcical burial plot line this was also largely in part due to the poor characterisations of Leila’s five besties. Instead of feeling truly authentic they all felt like caricatures or almost stereotype composites of the types of characters that would be #SquadGoals for a woman of little social standing.

What I am pleased about is that the story never attempted to solve Leila’s murder, there was no talk of justice etc. Instead the focus was primarily on the tragedy of Leila’s life and really highlighted social injustices that were prevalent during the setting of this book.

The book thankfully ended with a short Part Three that took the focus away from Leila’s friends and instead centred on Leila and her soul but unfortunately even this touching ending couldn’t salvage the book for me and ultimately it’s an ambivalent three star rating that I am giving. A book that promised so much but sadly I feel somewhat shortchanged upon finishing it.

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16 thoughts on “’10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World’ by Elif Shafak – Book Review

  1. Hmmm. Interesting. I am very curious about this book as it has been shortlisted in this year’s Man Booker award. Your great and, as always, insightful review makes me want to pick it up and read it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I watched a review about this and heard about the concept I knew immediately that I wanted to read it! So fascinating 😍 I’m so sorry to hear that the second part of the book let you down though! The styles sound so jarring and I can imagine that it wouldn’t have been pleasant to read after feeling so connected with part one. That’s a shame! I did hear mixed opinions about Leila’s friends in the book, so I’ll definitely be approaching those parts with caution 🤣 Wonderful review, Emer! Sorry that it was a let down, but glad you enjoyed parts of it too! 😊

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    1. It’s still well worth the read Dini so don’t let me put you off it. It just could have been outstanding… and I think that is what sort of magnified my disappointment. Because the story and the writing were wonderful, my heart so full… so yes it ultimately was somewhat frustrating but I do not regret reading it :)))

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  3. It’s such an interesting concept to split the book in two that way. It’s a shame about the lack of character development for the second half because it sounds like this one could have been really great if it had continued in a more serious, well-developed manner. Lovely review! Jen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh such a shame Jen!!! I had wanted to love this. And I very nearly did!!! This book has so many good things going for it…but that second section just jarred much too much with the first section and the plot lost its way in favour of melodrama. So disappointing!!

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  4. oh wow this sounds really really interesting but i feel like i would just get completely frustrated so im in between if i want to read this or not lmao fantastic review though my doll

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    1. It is super interesting Amanda!!! And super frustrating because it was almost great… SO CLOSE TO BEING GREAT!!!!! But that second part…melodrama central and I couldn’t deal. But otherwise the prose was sumptuous. The premise was so moving, there were moments of utterly breathtaking beauty…IF ONLY I COULD FORGET PART TWO LMAO!!!!

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    1. It’s certainly an incredibly interesting premise. And for much of the book was executed brilliantly. I can understand why critics were keen to praise it and list it for the Booker but sadly for me it didn’t quite reach the heights that I thought it could have.

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