It’s a good thing this book is written so nicely and narrated wonderfully well because the plot has no particular substance and most of the characters are essentially interchangeable – that may have been semi-deliberate.
10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World By Elif Shafak Read by Alix Dunmore 9h 11m Rating 7.5
The framing device in Part I was clever, I suppose. It’s what you’d expect from a Booker nomination in 2020 – the tragic story of an abused marginal woman in the city of a very poor foreign country (or in London). And it was written by a non-European woman – Turkey.
It does gain interest in Part II, about 2/3 through the book. But I learned next to nothing about Turkey, to me it seemed a tad too similar to India, although Istanbul was a bit different here than in the delicious books of Orhan Pamuk. Maybe the really rough areas of all urban areas are very similar these days. Except for a few touches, this could have taken place in New York or LA, I think.
In the mid-1960s, a prostitute named Tequila Leila is left for dead in one of the rubbish heaps of Istanbul. Her heart has stopped beating, but her brain lives on for another “10 minutes and 38 seconds.” During that time she reviews her life. It was rough, not one the reader would want to have lived.
But then the narrative changes dramatically at about 2/3rds through when Leila dies. The story, however, continues because it’s not just her story. She has five very close friends, all from “the streets,” and we follow them as they got through their grief and loss. The narrative also goes back a bit into the lives of those five people – some of this is done before the midway point and some after. They all have rather tragic stories because they are all generally from the streets and are generally known by aliases. They have each other.
Up to Leila’s death the story is pretty predictable. That’s when the friends come into their own and have their own adventure.
I maybe should have read the Kindle version of the book as there is a highly illustrated and detailed map in the front. I love maps but after looking at the map in the Kindle sample I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s a beautiful map – maybe too much detail – ?