10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

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10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

How pathetic it was trying to relegate death to the periphery of life when death was at the center of everything.

Tequila Leila, a sex worker in Istanbul, lay dying by the dumpster. For the last 10 minutes and 38 seconds, she recalls her life, her childhood, and how she eventually ended up murdered.

The premise of the book is very appealing, and by reading the blurb, it piques one’s curiosity to find out more about what happens. The book is divided into three parts:

Part one: the mind – Leila recounts her life as a child born in a patriarchal and conservative family in Turkey, how she met her closest friends, the abuses she encountered, how her family eventually disowned her, and how she ended up working as a prostitute in Istanbul. Leila lived a colorful life well-loved by her closest friends. I loved how she looked back at her memories and how it all started by associating it with a specific smell or taste. The flashbacks and descriptions were very vivid. Through all her hardships, you cannot help but hope that she find happiness.

Part two: the body – Leila’s body was found and her remains were transferred to the local morgue. She was an unwanted body disowned by her family so the state sent her to the Cemetery of the Companionless. Her 5 friends, unwilling to accept that Leila will be buried there go on a mission to retrieve her body so they can hold a funeral of their own to celebrate Leila’s life. I did not like this part as much as I loved the first. I get how her friends wanted to giver her the send-off that she deserves but their night quest felt too comedic and out of tune with how the first part was written.

Part three: the soul – A brief continuation of how the 5 friends gave Leila the send-off and how Leila found peace in the afterlife. I did not like the narrative about her five friends but liked how her soul ended up finding eternal rest.

Honestly, the book has its high and lows, and I get that the author wanted to show a glimpse of how life may be like in a conservative community, the challenges it may pose to females or outcasts and how they can find strength in each other. Shafak wanted to address too many issues all at once and it made the story (especially in Part Two) uncoordinated. There are many things in a community that needs acceptance and understanding but cramming it all in one part/novel may ruin the essence of what the story is about.

Death is always upon us and trying to visualize how it will eventually be my turn to be on the brink of life makes me wonder what it would be like to spend my remaining breaths. Does one really recount his life as his brain shuts down?

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