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10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak - Review

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

This was my book club book choice for March. We previously read Three Daughters of Eve by the same author back in 2020. I did quite like it but didn't love it, but I had liked it enough to give this a go. I ended up loving this and now want everyone to read it so we can talk about it!

So the protagonist of the book is Leila, known as Tequila Leila, a sex worker in Istanbul, who is murdered at the beginning of the book. Her body is put in a dumpster and as her brain shuts down, she thinks back over her life and introduces the reader to each of her five friends, and explains how and why she's ended up murdered and abandoned. The second part documents what happens to her body and the third part documents what happens to her soul, but these parts are much smaller than the first part. 

Leila grew up in a place called Van with her mother, her father, and her father's second wife, who she called Auntie. She learns that she is actually Auntie's daughter when she is around ten I think. Auntie has another baby then, a son, which pleases Leila's father, but he is unwell, and doesn't survive much longer. Leila's parents are pretty neglectful of her. She leaves home when she is sixteen and escapes to Istanbul. I think her parents want to marry her off and she refuses. 

She starts to work as a sex worker on a street in Istanbul with legal brothels on it. It was really interesting to read about the changing fashions of the women and how the country became a bit more conservative over the course of Leila's life. Her first friend worked in a factory near the brothel and then disappeared; when the two reconnect Nalan has come out as trans as is living as a woman. She is the first of the five. There are flashbacks to how they met and stuff, which is repeated with each of the other friends and which is a really clever way of writing this in a novel. Each of the five learns about Leila's death and they rush to find her because they know her family won't claim her body and they want to claim her before her body is taken to an unmarked grave in a dedication cemetery. 

I can't remember all of the friends which is ridiculous because I only finished this book a couple of days ago as I'm writing this, but they are all outsiders in Istanbul's hierachy for one reason or another. Silan was a friend of Leila's from childhood and he lives a respectable life with his wife and children, but he loves her and wants to stay in touch. He just doesn't tell his family that he is friends with a sex worker. There's Jameelah, an African immigrant, there's one who is a little person, and there's another, the details of whom have left me. I really liked the friends and there's a lot in the book about found and chosen family which I really liked. 

I loved Leila and found her story sad, but with joyful parts too. She falls in love with a man called D/Ali (not a typo) and gets caught up in a riot. The story of Turkey sizzles away in the background. I reckon that my book club will have really enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to discussing it. I'm giving it five out of five.  

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