Lead Review

  • Book: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World
  • Location: Istanbul (Constantinople)
  • Author: Elif Shafak

Review Author: tripfiction



Leila is a prostitute in Istanbul. She is brutally murdered and thrown into a waste bin. Her body stops functioning, but her brain keeps going for the 10 minutes and 38 seconds of the title. In that time she revisits key events in her life… She has five very diverse and very loving friends – all to some degree misfits living on the fringe of Istanbul society. The first part of the book describes how each came into Leila’s life and what each meant to her. They are a strange and eclectic mix – some born in Turkey, and some in the Middle East and Africa. They have all come to Istanbul for a reason, and Elif Shafak observes them with sensitivity and understanding. The early chapters explain how Leila came to the city – running away from her home town several hundred miles away. Her childhood was not a happy one – having to acknowledge her mother as her aunt and being abused by her uncle. It is not a surprise she ended up doing the work she did.

The second part of the book covers the period when she was both brain and body dead, and lying in a mortuary. Her friends are desperate to find her and give her a proper funeral; but are clearly hampered by the fact they are not Leila’s blood relatives – and that the authorities will not recognise them. They have a battle on their hands. Ingenuity and the cover of darkness come to their aid.

10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World has been described as a love letter to Istanbul, and that is a very apt observation. The city – in all its glory, all its sordidness, and all its mystery – comes through as a very strong character in the book. It is clear that it is somewhere of which Elif Shafak is extremely fond and fascinated by.

10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World was short listed for the Booker Prize in 2019. It is not hard to see why.

An excellent and thought provoking read. Highly recommended.

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