Monthly Archives: February 2020

10 minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World #BookReview

Book: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
Author: Elif Shafak

After January’s reading spree February was a month for slowing down. Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds was the perfect pick for the purpose. One cannot open a Shafak and breeze through it. Her books are to be sampled and savoured at leisure.

But before I get carried away by my love for the author let me introduce you to the story.

The story

This is the tale of Tequila Leila – a prostitute in Istanbul. We are introduced to her as her body lies in a dumpster waiting to be found by friends or family.

The story stems from a piece of research that suggests that a person’s brain is active for about 10 minutes after the heart stops beating. 

Each minute of Leila’s time in the dumpster brings a memory.

Fragrance, flavour, sights and sounds translate into memories as she reaches into the depths of her mind to relive moments of her life. We piece together her story through each flashback. More importantly, we get to meet The Five; five of Leila’s friends who constitute the family she could never have.

That makes up the first part of her story – The Mind. There is also a second and third part – The Body and The Soul – that take up the narrative after Leila’s mind stops working.

You might also like The Bastard of Istanbul by the same author.

What I loved

One would imagine a novel that hinges on death would be about death and dying. Contrary to that, the focus of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds remains on love and friendship and the relationships we form throughout our lives. Here’s what I enjoyed about the book

The premise

I absolutely loved it. What a fabulous peg to weave a story! 

The poetic storytelling

While the story or the narrative is the life of a novel, there is also a special kind of charm in the way it is told. And that’s where Shafak excels. Almost every page of the book is a quotable quote.

Sample this one on friendship:

On days when she wallowed in self-pity, her chest cracking open, they (her friends) would gently pull her up and breathe life into her lungs.”

A sensory treat

Shafak’s story-telling stimulates the senses. So potent were her descriptions that the situations are forever tied up in my mind with the smells and sounds just as they were in Leila’s. The fragrance of cardamom coffee, the smell of sugar-and-lemon, the aromatic lamb stew as also the taste of watermelon and that of soil in her mouth – they will all remain with me forever.

The narrative

The first part was unputdownable as I followed Leila’s journey through the young innocence of childhood to her stormy and traumatic growing up years and then as she lands into prostitution. The individual stories of her five friends kept me glued. While I didn’t much like Part 2, the third part was beautiful, though a little short. 

The treatment

I loved Leila’s portrayal. I liked that despite the tough situations life threw at her, she didn’t turn cynical or bitter. If anything, she valued love and friendship ever more and made warm heartfelt connections. Which is why her friends are ready to go to any lengths for her.

Most of all, there was Istanbul

No one, absolutely no one, can describe Istanbul the way Shafak does.  Her love shines through each page even as she makes no attempt to camouflage its warts. Istanbul comes alive as a city with a million shades, innocent yet heartless, a city changing and growing constantly.

Istanbul was an illusion. A magician’s trick gone wrong… In truth, there was no Istanbul. There were multiple Istanbuls – struggling, competing, clashing, each perceiving that, in the end, only one could survive

Quotes like these are liberally sprinkled, often innocuously placed in the narrative. They build a picture of the city without you even being aware of it. If I ever go to Istanbul, it will be Shafak’s version I’d be looking for. Here’s another quote I loved:

This city always surprised her; moments of innocence were hidden in its darkest corners, moments so elusive that by the time she realised how pure they were, they would be gone.

What could have been better

The ‘friend-list’

That’s my first gripe with the book – that her friend list, the ‘water family’,  seemed contrived. It was almost as if Shafak was collecting one misfit of each kind to bring together to the group.

The individual stories…

… were too too short. I’ve said earlier I loved each of them and I wanted to know more about each of them. Some, like Humeyra, got a very raw deal. Her picture was incomplete, truncated somehow.

The bonding

I would have liked Shafak to spend a few more pages establishing the camaraderie between the friends. I got their deep connection with Leila but they didn’t come together as a group for me. And that was crucial since they were working together as a team in the second part of the book.

The second part

This part, The Body, was to me, the weakest bit of the book. Moreso because the first part was so beautifully written. It comes as a rude shock waking one up from a poetic bit of writing to something almost caricaturish as her friends attempt to give her a befitting burial. A book like this didn’t deserve it.

Last thought: Despite the weaknesses, I’d say Read it.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the prompt ‘a book gifted to you’. This one came from my dear friend and an exceptionally generous Santa, Shalini.

What is ‘Natural’? #BookBytes 25

I just wrapped up Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World and while I still have to make up my mind about the book but some of its quotes were too good to not be shared. And so I’ve been sharing them on social media all this past week. Here’s one that took my breath away with its simple wisdom.

D/Ali said that, as a rule, people who overused the word ‘natural’ did not know much about the ways of Mother Nature. If you told them how snails, worms and black sea bass were hermaphrodites, or male seahorses could give birth, or male clownfish turned female half way through their lives, or male cuttlefish were transvestites, they would be surprised. Anyone who studied nature closely would think twice before using the word ‘natural’.

– Elif Shafak, 10 minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

Food for thought, right? How quick we are to label people, thoughts, behaviours unnatural, abnormal when ‘natural’ is way stranger than we can ever imagine.

***********

If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition of BookBytes goes live on 3rd March 2020.

City of Girls #BookReview

Book: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

This is my second book by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read Eat Pray Love and I didn’t much care for it. I then tried liking the film but I just about managed to get through it only because Julia Roberts is one of my absolute favourite actresses.

So it was with much trepidation that I picked up City of Girls, on the assurance that it wasn’t like her previous work at all. That did prove accurate, for this one really is very different.

The story

19- year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York to live with her aunt Peg who owns and runs Lily Playhouse, a theatre company. From her small town existence, Vivian is pushed into this new exciting world peopled with amazingly colourful characters – actors, script writers, musicians and the most magnificent showgirls. Being an extraordinarily talented seamstress she fits right in. She falls in love with New York and with this new life of hers. She cannot have enough of it. Every night she traipses through it in a haze of men and alcohol savouring every moment of this new found freedom far from her parents and her small town upbringing.

Then one night she makes a mistake. A mistake so huge that nothing can set it right. Not only does it cause a massive scandal but also changes her life completely.

It brings to Vivian, a maturity as well, and a new understanding of herself and of what she wants from life.

What I liked

The book traces Vivian’s journey through life. In that sense it can be termed a bit of a coming-of-age book, only it goes much beyond, following Vivian into old age. It is also a bit of historical fiction with the backdrop of WWII during part of the narrative. Most of all it describes New York City and its growth over the years in fascinating detail.

However, for me, the best part of the book was the Lily Playhouse. Quite like Vivian I was taken in by running of a theatre company and the people who inhabited the world. Each character big and small added to the setting making it come alive, while retaining a special place for herself/himself. 

I loved the bits where Vivian scouted for clothes turning them into beautiful creations and the way the entire team at Lily Playhouse comes together to put on a hit play. I loved Aunt Peg. New York of the 1940s was enchanting and I could see exactly why Vivian was so enamoured of it.

What could have been better

The first half of the book, though fast paced had pages and pages of descriptions of Vivian’s night-outs and that grew tedious – sex and alcohol and then some more sex, till I grew tired of it. The book slows down in the second half and then it tends to drag.

The saddest part though was that I couldn’t warm up to Vivian. Oh there were many pluses to her character – she was spunky and adventurous and a good enough friend, but she was annoyingly immature. Perhaps that was the way her character was supposed to be in the beginning but I didn’t grow to care for her even in her grown-up avatar. Her obsession with having a ‘good time’ continued to irk me, quite similar to Liz of Eat Pray Love.

I couldn’t even connect with the great romance/friendship Vivian finds towards the end of the book.

All in all Gilbert’s heroines don’t seem to be on my list of favourites.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the ‘free hit’ prompt.

Last thought: A racy read yet pretty meh. Avoidable.

Memories #BookBytes 24

After a very satisfying January where I managed to read five books (I wrapped up the Lunar Chronicles) I’ll be slowing down this month. With that thought in mind I picked up Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World. I’ve read two of her books and really enjoyed them. If this one is anything like them I know I’ll want to read it slowly, savouring every page, every word.

Here’s a quote I loved.

“But human memory resembles a late-night reveller who has had a few too many drinks: hard as it tries, it just cannot follow a straight line. It staggers through a maze of inversions, often moving in dizzying zigzags, immune to reason and liable to collapse altogether.” 

– Elif Shafak, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

I’m just about fifty pages into the book and I’m loving the way Shafak uses her analogies. I specially liked this one, apart from that last bit about ‘collapsing altogether’. The memory box is easy to open but tough to close and it doesn’t really ‘collapse’ for me.

I am, however, in whole-hearted agreement about memories zigzagging all over the place. They never do follow a simple pattern. In fact, the same memory may take two very different directions if it comes to us at two different times. In one of my earlier posts on my other blog I’d said I store memories in my head the way I store my earrings – in one big jumble – so that when I pick out one I have no clue which ones may come out dangling along with it.

Have you come across an unusual analogy during your reading?
Have you read any of Elif Shafak’s works?
Do share the quote if you have, and join me for #BookBytes.

***********

If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition of BookBytes goes live on Tuesday, February 18th.