Tag Archives: Elif Shafak

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

The Bastard of Istanbul #BookReview

Book: The Bastard of Istanbul
Author: Elif Shafak

I’d recently finished The Forty Rules of Love and loved it. The Bastard of Istanbul was already waiting on my bookshelf.

The story

This is the story of two girls Asya, who is Turkish, and Armanoush, aka Amy, who is Armenian American. Asya, the bastard daughter of Zehila, is brought up in Istanbul in an all-women household with her aunts, grand mom and great grand mom. Though Armanoush lives in Arizona with her mom and step father, her birth-father’s household in San Francisco is also predominantly female, quite similar to Asya’s.

Asya is the quintessential rebel. Armanoush on the other hand is a ‘good girl’. Her Armenian roots intrigue her as does the Turkish-Armenian conflict. In search of the Armenian side of her identity she makes her way to Istanbul and the two girls meet.

So what happens then? Do they connect? 

Above all, there’s the secret of Asya’s birth. Who is her father? What will happen when the secret is revealed?

What I loved

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – the more I read the more I am made aware of my ignorance. I had no clue about the Turkish-Armenian conflict. I hadn’t heard of the Armenian genocide. It was horrifying yet fascinating to read about it. 

The interesting bit is that the Turkish Government still refuses to acknowledge the genocide while the Armenians have never forgiven them for it. The antagonism has festered for decades.

That is why I enjoyed Asya and Armanoush’s interactions. Armanoush is skeptical of going back to Turkey, apprehensive of some kind of a violent reaction, while Asya is completely unaware of her feelings. That’s just how resentment brews till people meet each other and then it magically falls away and love and warmth take its place.

At one point in the book Asya asks Armanoush’s Armenian friend: 
Tell me, what can I as an ordinary Turk in this day and age do to ease your pain?
And he replies: Your State can apologise. 
Then he goes on to say: You yourself can apologise.

That conversation is one of the best parts of the book.

There are other good bits too.
If you’re looking to get to know Turkey, specifically Istanbul, this is the book for you. Shafak’s tale is rich with descriptions of busy Turkish streets. She brings it all alive from rain-filled potholes to sounds of street vendors, the famous hammams, the curious customs and above all the food – delicious glorious food. I was constantly looking up dishes and their recipes, trying out the unfamiliar names and salivating as I mentally sampled them. Do keep google handy when you read this book.

There’s a bit of magical fantasy element too, which I liked.

The beginning is slow but the book gets interesting in the second half. I loved the way the lives of the two girls entwine and the end reveals a secret so horrifying one is blown away.

What could have been better

The book opens with Zehila (Asya’s mother) trying to get an abortion. She sounds like a wonderfully colourful character and the opening completely reeled me.

Within a few pages however the book changed course. It proceeded to loose its way, getting disconnected and mixed up and the first 150-200 pages proved to be a struggle to get through. Nothing much happens and Asya’s ennui and existential angst rubbed off on me making me restless with the book. So don’t pick up this one if you’re looking for a pacy read. It isn’t.

I like women protagonists but The Bastard of Istanbul had just too many making it difficult to keep track of all of them, specially on Armanoush’s side.

Shafak also states a few ‘rules’ along the way, a bit like she did in Forty Rules, but they dodn’t come together coherently in any kind of pattern.

I wish it were a shorter book, written/edited better. Oh and I want to read Zehila’s story. She is, by far, the most interesting character in the book. It was disappointing to see so little of her.

Last thought: Take on this trip to Istanbul with loads of patience and in close collaboration with Google.

Importance of Dissent #BookBytes 13

Here’s a quote from my current read The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafaq. This isn’t a book one can rush through and I’m making steady, though slow progress. More on that when I review the book. For now savour this quote.

“To her way of thinking, anyone who can’t rise up and rebel, anyone devoid of the ability to dissent, cannot really be said to be alive. In resistance lies the key to life. The rest of the people fall into two camps: the vegetables, who are fine with everything, and the tea glasses, who, thought not fine with numerous things, lack the strength to confront. It is the latter that are the worse of the two.” 

Elif Shafaq, The Bastard of Istanbul

Wise words, aren’t they?

Dissent is such an important thing for any healthy system – specially for a country, a democracy like India. Dissent implies a thinking, feeling mind.

I agree when Shafaq says so eloquently, if one is ‘okay’ with everything, one is but a vegetable. However, I’m not sure I completely agree with the second part of the quote – is it worse to feel something and not have the courage to stand up for it or to not feel at all? How frustrating it must be to not be able to speak your mind. I’d feel sorry for such a person.

What do you say?

Before you leave:

Here are two must-read posts with some fabulous quotes:
One, by my dear friend Anamika. These quotes need to go up as posters in the rooms of boys and girls. Do drop by her post here.
And the second one is by Nabanita who picked out some powerful quotes on feminism. Do drop by for a read.

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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 is scheduled for August 20th.

Celebrating Differences #BookBytes 9

Some books come into your life at a particular time, at a time when you need to read them. When that happens the book takes on a whole new meaning, it becomes more than a story to be read and forgotten, it becomes part of you.

Hola folks. And welcome to another edition of #BookBytes. I’ve been reading The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak and the age-old Sufi wisdom in its pages has blown me away completely.

Here’s the quote I picked for today:

We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is an amount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

These lines hold special significance in the modern context when countries, societies, communities, even thought processes are getting increasingly narrower, more intolerant and rigid. It pains me, terrifies me even, somedays when I think where this could lead us. And I wish I had a magic wand that would make us all more accepting, more open to and appreciative of differences.

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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 is scheduled for June 18th.