10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Safak

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What did you thing of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds ....?

Until now I haven’t been a fan of Elif Safak’s writing. I found her early novels (The Bastard of Istanbul  and The Flea Palace) disjointed and in the case of the latter, more like a collection of vignettes than a work of narrative fiction. However since reading The Three Daughters of Eve and most recently 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World, that changed.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World tells the story of Tequila Leila, an Istanbul sex worker, in a series of memories she recounts just after she’s died, before her brain shuts down forever. We meet her family, both the blood relatives who abused and then disowned her and her real family, people she’s befriended over the years who are outcasts like herself. Through her encounters with each of them we learn how she ended up in Istanbul, her hopes and dreams and major joyful and sad events throughout her short life.

Safak’s critics have had much to say about this book. They point to factual errors in the text, such as having people driving on the left and her choice of characters. Leila aside, there’s a dwarf, a transsexual, a brother with Downs Syndrome, as well as a refugee and other misfits in the cast that is Leila’s life. Some say the number of different characters results in too many incompletely realised themes while yet others believe they were chosen specifically so Safak could be on trend with popular issues. They feel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World isn’t truly representative of Istanbul residents and say Safak has a duty to present Turkey accurately instead of using fashionable stereotypes. Additionally a number of people argue the final section is so rushed and different in tone it reads like a separate book.

The only criticism I really concur with is the last one. I don’t believe Safak is duty bound to write factually about Turkey in her novels. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World is a work of fiction, and should be read as such. It is just one of many different volumes in a fictional library that is Turkish literature, with all its difference and diversity.

When I closed 10 Minutes 28 Seconds in this Strange World for the last time, what I was left with was Safak’s mastery of words. She evokes such searingly beautiful and painful images of friendship, alienation and hope that there were moments where I simply had to pause, holding the book to my chest, and let the words soak in.

Title: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
Publisher: Penguin
Date: January 2, 2020
ISBN:  978-0241979464

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