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10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
September 2019: Cultural > 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World - Elif Shafak - 4 stars

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Nikki | 661 comments "Did the dead remember the past, and, if so, which parts of it, and in what order? How could the mind condense an entire life into the time it took to boil a kettle?"

I was immediately drawn into this story by the unusual way that the first part is told. The title is taken from an observation made later in the book that researchers have observed brain activity in people who have just died, in some cases "for as much as ten minutes and thirty-eight seconds." Tequila Leila uses her full 10 minutes 38 seconds to relive key moments of her life, indexed through a series of strong sensory memories, tastes and smells that recall significant events beginning with a vivid account of her birth and ending with her murder on the streets of Istanbul. Although her experiences were horribly traumatic in places, I thought that she was a great character and her story was well told, and I enjoyed the way that the unusual structure allowed for reflections on the process of death (not as macabre as it sounds) and the nature of memory.

I also enjoyed the short vignettes introducing the friends who are like family to her, but I didn't form clear enough impressions of several of them to feel a strong connection to them, and so the second portion of the book, in which the focus switches to their response to her death, felt less compelling to me. (There was also one incident in this section which felt too obviously hinted at, which affected my ability to suspend disbelief.) I felt that the brief final section was very strong though, which meant that I ended with a positive view of the book as a whole.

Susie | 4488 comments I came close to something like hatred for this book! I'm glad you liked it more than I. There seems to be a bit of talk about it being the Booker winner. Not long until we find out!

Joy D | 3079 comments This book seems like a "love it or hate it" type. It's one of my favorites of the year so far. Nice review, Nikki!

Nikki | 661 comments Thanks Joy! What did you dislike so much about it Susie? I liked it but I must admit I didn't think it stood out enough to be my Booker choice (not that I've read any of the others yet, but I'd hope to be more blown away than I was by this one, if that makes any sense...)

Susie | 4488 comments Here’s my review from the Booker shadow panel I am on - My immediate thought upon finishing this book was that I must have read the wrong book! Unfortunately, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds was not for me. I found the characters to be painted too broadly, leading to me feeling no emotional connection to any of them, including the protagonist. The life stories of the five friends were given such a narrow focus that I didn’t care to remember anything about them. I felt as though the writing relied too heavily upon the melodramatic, and I found myself eye rolling on several occasions. The effort that Shafak made was palpable and somewhat forced to me, and I was never able to settle in to the narrative. The dialogue came across as clunky, and although there were glimmers of pretty prose when describing Instanbul, it was not enough to lift it from a mediocre reading experience.

message 6: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7117 comments and I found myself eye rolling on several occasions.

Oh how I hate eye rolling while eye roll, I am disappointed. If it goes beyond 2, it is usually a DNF for me.

Nikki | 661 comments Susie wrote: "Here’s my review from the Booker shadow panel I am on - My immediate thought upon finishing this book was that I must have read the wrong book! Unfortunately, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds was not for me. ..."

Thanks for sharing that! I'm really intrigued because it feels like your reaction to the whole book mirrored my reaction to the second part, but not overall, and yet I can see what you mean. After pondering it for a bit I wonder whether the difference is that I really liked the structure & so was willing to judge the Leila parts of it positively based on that, i.e. your life flashing before your eyes could plausibly be heightened impressions of dramatic moments only, but the same writing style didn't work for me when it was applied to the stories of living people. Just a guess though, as I certainly wasn't conscious of making those judgements while reading...

Anita Pomerantz | 6257 comments You rated this one a bit higher than I did, Nikki, but honestly my feelings about it were pretty similar to yours. I quite enjoyed the first half, but felt let down by the second.

Nikki | 661 comments I just read Ron Charles' review of this & it's left me feeling more impressed by the book, knowing that she chose to write what he describes as "a deeply humane story about the cruel effects of Turkey’s intolerant sexual attitudes" in the context of her history of being investigated for 'insulting Turkishness' & writing 'obscene depictions of sexual abuse'.

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