10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

By Megan Thomas

I saw Elif Shafak speak about this fascinating novel in 2019 at the Edinburgh Book Festival, before this strange world got a whole lot stranger! I nabbed a copy straight afterwards, which Shafak signed “with sisterhood”, and the state of my TBR pile is evidenced by the fact that I’ve just finished it but all’s well that ends well, right? That’s not quite the case for the novel’s protagonist, though…

According to science, the brain has shown activity for up to 10 minutes and 38 seconds after death. Shafak has used this as a springboard to tell the story of Tequila Leila, a prostitute in a brothel in Istanbul whose narrative starts when she is killed and left in a dustbin on the outskirts of the city. With each passing minute and second, Leila’s brain unlocks a memory which in turn tell us the story of her life, from her early childhood trauma to how she met her five friends who become her family.

Heartbreaking and eye-opening, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World is a delicate but impactful read which illustrates a wider culture and political experience through somewhat fantastic individuals who, although fictional, are all so real.


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