10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World: A girl with a dream becomes a commodity
Book review: Elif Shafak’s work is fuelled by a vivid, sensual passion and her signature fusion of fact and fiction
Elif Shafak has said ‘a conversation with the past is another way of talking to the present’.
About a quarter of the way into Elif Shafak’s 11th novel, a little girl zones out of a family drama by pondering a herd of deer depicted on a Persian carpet beneath her feet. “Not all of the deer are following the rules” she notices. One is poised to canter off towards what the child imagines is a sun-filled valley, full of willows and scented grasslands. She wants to jump on its back and escape.
In 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World that is exactly what the child eventually does. It’s the story of Leyla, later known as “Tequila Leila” who, along with her five friends, finds herself in Istanbul, a city where “all the discontented and all the dreamers end up”. Unfortunately, we first encounter our heroine dead, in a wheelie bin.
Leila’s murder will be seen on national TV, somewhere between coverage of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation and the US invasion of Iraq. But for the duration of time that that scientists now estimate the brain remains active after death, Leila is not concerned with this; she is taking a magical mystery tour of her life and the reader is going with her.