Book review : 10 Minutes 38 seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

download (3)I had guessed it right that this book would make it to the Booker Prize shortlist . The premise of  a life – story told through the final string of memories that the clinically dead person has , before the brain shuts down , was fascinating . During the final moments , when the brain tries think in its oxygen – deprived state , obviously it is going to throw up the memories / impressions which it had formed strongly . . .

The book is divided into three sections – Mind , Body and Soul .

Mind

As it can be easily guessed , the Mind section tells the story of Tequila Leila , through her swansong – memories . Somehow , the mind seems to ” remember ” every object of her memory by its smell and taste  – curious , isn ‘ t it ? With every ticking minute , Leila ‘ s brain throws up another deep – seated memory – the taste of spiced goat stew , the goat sacrificed by her father to celebrate the birth of her brother ; the taste of the home – made lemon & sugar waxing mixture used by the women in the neighborhood to wax their legs ; the taste of cardamom tea shared with a handsome University student whom she fell in love  with , when he takes shelter in the brothel where she works ; the smell and taste of watermelon and the memories of a summer vacation with family . . .

Every memory gives us a glimpse into a key event in Leila ‘ s life and the friend she made because of that incident . . .

Leila & her friends – their story 

Leyla Afife ( full of virtue )  Kamile ( high in merit ) , the daughter of a tailor in the city of Van , rechristened herself as Tequila Leila ,  following her elopement from her home and subsequent entanglement with prostitution in Istanbul . Yes , her middle and last names seem to make a mockery of her . . .

She has five close friends in the city of Istanbul – Nostalgia Nalan , Sabotage Sinan ( the only man in this girl gang ) , Jameelah , Hollywood Humeyra and Zaynab122 . Each has his / her own story on how they ended up where they are today and how he / she became friends with Leila . Their stories are as fascinating as Leila ‘ s . Like her , they are from the fringes of the society and Istanbul ,  the  bustling Turkish capital would not miss them if one of them turns up dead one day . . . Like Leila , they too , might become news on national television if they were also murdered gruesomely ; the newspapers might carry reports about their deaths , but they will first seek to reassure the ” normal female citizens ” that there is no threat for them . They had known all of this but until Leila ‘ s death they had not been slapped on the face with it . . .

The author uses several significant events of Leila ‘ s short life as pointers to the patriarchal society ‘ s aspects  . Some of them below :

  • how her mother ‘ s frequent miscarriages ( a few even nearly fatal ) except for Leila ‘ s birth  did not deter her father to keep trying for a son . . .  And how her mother relies on the birth of the child ( preferably a boy ) to cement her place in the family  , her being the second wife of  Leila ‘ s father  .
  • how right – wing ideologies slowly infiltrate ordinary families when the men of the family , like Leila ‘ s father ,  are brainwashed by right-wing ” spiritual leaders ” into restricting the women folk  and the children of the house  in order to  ” put an end to this man – made regime and bring back God – made sharia ” .  So , meetings with any of the progressive neighbors , ” alla franga “ magazines ,  newspapers , TV – watching  – almost every single aspect that had provided the ladies some news about the world outside their doorstep had to  be banned . . .
  • how the ” reputation ” of the girl was more important than addressing the abuse the girl had suffered . . . Everything else should be swept under the carpet . . .
  • how her being a prostitute , seemed to imply that there is no need for sympathy in the way she met her end ;  how , even the youngsters , had been taught to view her as a ” fallen ” woman who had no  claim to their  pity / sympathy but only deserved all the  scorn and revulsion one could muster .
  • how Leila had to deal with every random ” righteous ” man ‘ s ire as she is seen as a blot on the society . . . Finally , she had to die in the hands of one such man who had taken it upon himself ” to turn whores into angels ” .

There is  no forced inclusion of plot elements to illustrate these themes  – the story rolls seamlessly .  The author has tried out some new analogies which are interesting .

What is the story of Tequila Leila , the prostitute whose body was found in a dustbin in Istanbul ? What are the friends ‘ stories and the stories behind some of the nicknames ? 

Body 

Now , having been forced to face the society ‘ s apathy and worse still ,  the judgmental opinions , they decide to give their friend a decent funeral . Normally , people like Leila ‘ s and her friends will be put up in the Cemetery of the Companionless when they died . The fact that Leila had friends who were ready to give her a proper funeral did not matter to the state – when a body is unclaimed or refused by the family , the person is buried in the ” Cemetery of the Companionless ” in Kilyos , no more questions asked . . .

So , the five friends make a rash decision to dig out Leila from her grave in the cemetery at night . . . They go about muddling in the Scooby – Doo gang style . . . [ perhaps this parallel is due to Scooby Doo  being in the news very often , these last few days . . . ]

What happened to their mission ? Was it successful or not ? 

Soul

Finally , Leila ‘ s soul gets free and makes an acquaintance she had long wanted to . . . Who is it ??

Summing it all up –

To sum it up , the writing & the story has the reader turning the pages fast . . . With the life story of a prostitute , the writer has had the space to pack several segments which mirror the society ‘ s attitude to the people on the fringes and it ‘ s misogynistic tendencies and she has done a commendable job . . .

In the backdrop of the characters ‘ lives , history is always in the making – the construction of the Bosphorous bridge , the massacre in Istanbul on International Workers ‘ Day ( 1997 ) . . . Sometimes , characters are present in the moment when events , which had made to the history books since then , were being enacted – often without them realizing it . Of course , we all are or will be . . .

Perhaps , the midnight grave digging and all that drama , brought this book down  to sit with all other populist contemporary fiction in the bookshelves . . . With only the first section , it would have been in a league of its own . . .

Still , I hope the questions might have sufficiently intrigued you  to add this book to your TBR . . .Yes , I would recommend this book . . . I only wish that Elif had known when to stop writing . . .

If you have already read the book , tell me your thoughts about the book in the comments section below . . . Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .

Until the next review then . . .

 

 

 

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Seriously under-rated Christie must-reads

September 15th being Agatha Christie’s 128th birth anniversary , I  revisited the Christie’s’ in my bookshelf over the previous week . It might sound a bit odd to revisit mystery fiction when you would already know the culprit but trust me , rereading Christie did not prove to be dull . She managed to throw the spotlight on some of the storytelling elements which had gone unobserved during the fast & furious one sitting read .

Sans the pitfall of too-descriptive / metaphorical  language or other innovative narrative elements/styles of today’s thrillers or the “psychological” elements of the psychological thrillers Christie’s straight narrative still had us hooked to the book even more than books with the above mentioned fuss n feathers . When we hear the name of Christie , some of the most popular titles like And Then There Were None , The Murder of Roger Ackroyd need no introduction for readers .  So , here today, I have a list of some of the most underrated Christie titles which most of us tend to miss out with all the noise the popular titles are making.

sad cypress

#1 Sad Cypress

Elinor Carlisle and Roddy Welman , an engaged couple ,  arrive at Hunterbury Lodge , Mrs. Welman’s estate on receiving an anonymous letter accusing someone of taking advantage of their aunt . Both are looking forward to a substantial inheritance on Mrs. Welman’s demise who is now an invalid following a stroke . Unfortunately , Rodney falls in love with Mary Gerard , the lodge-keeper’s daughter  whom Elinor suspects to be the person whom the anonymous writer meant . Elinor breaks her engagement to Rodney .

When the story begins Elinor is being tried for the murder of Mary Gerard – did rivalry in love prove to be a compelling motive for Elinor as everybody believe ? As Poirot tries to save Elinor from the gallows he uncovers several startling truths ….. Is Elinor truly innocent or a cold blooded murderess?

The solution to the puzzle simply left me speechless . I would strongly urge you to pick up this one . You can get the book here – Sad Cypress

#2 Sleeping Murder

sleeping murder

Miss Marple’s last case involves solving a ‘sleeping murder’ – a murder that has evaded detection for 18 years . Gwenda and Giles Reed  move into Hillside which turns out to be Gwenda’s childhood home . An evening at the theater triggers a childhood memory of being a witness to a murder – but where? .Who was the victim ? Who was the murderer ? Gwenda draws a blank for these questions except for a single name that she gives for the victim . As  they start piecing together the past they seem to get too close to discovering the murderer’s identity . For somebody who has committed the ‘perfect’ murder , the past should not be dug up and he/she will resort to anything to keep it so – including killing again .

Like  several amateur detectives , the Reeds are gung-ho about snooping around and do not realize the dangers they put themselves into . So, enter Miss Marple , ‘ the perfect Victorian piece ‘  to ‘ look after them ‘ ( to quote her ) . As a crime – Miss Marple realizes the dangers of delving too deep into the past – a murder , more so . But , an unsolved and ( unsuspected ) murder from the past proves to be too intriguing even for Miss Marple ( and not to mention , definitely dangerous )….

#3 Why Didn’t they ask Evans ?

evans

The last words of a dying man ” WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS ” spur Bobby Jones and his friend Frankie into  snooping around  trying to find the identity of the dead man and also , what did he mean by those words ….

Again we have two amateur detectives  here but what made the duo lovable was the fact they did had a good amount of luck in stumbling upon clues and they were like two kids playing the guess-who game – bringing in some good humor , at times  bungling up just like an amateur would ,  putting together pieces when there is a sudden brainwave –  I especially loved Frankie . Let me put it down here that amateur detectives don’t mean no logical explanation to their deductions .  What I love specially about them is that you get a good dose of drama and a change from our very business like Poirot or astute Miss Marple – but still Christie makes sure there is one of the pair who is bright enough to provide the readers with the logical explanations to their findings . The fun-loving sleuths meet their match in a villain who is all at once – suave , diabolical  and blessed with ( equally ) good humor who comes up clean in a most characteristic way … After reading the villain’s confession , I was equally amused with the villain too – we don’t comes across such interesting and if I may say , charming villains often….

You can shop for the book here – Why didn’t they ask Evans

#4 Death Comes As The End

the end

Set in 2000 BC Thebes, the story follows a spate of murders in the house of Imhotep, the Ka mortuary priest. It all began with the death of Nofret, his young concubine from Memphis. Her arrival at Imhotep’s house had not been without some animosity . She antagonized Imhotep’s sons and their wives – only the threat of disinheritance seemed to keep Yahmose and Sobek’s wives from bullying her any further. Her death seemed to bring everything back to as it was before Nofret’s arrival –  BUT IT WAS NOT SO .

Soon , as Renisenb , Imhotep’s daughter witnesses , the family members become victims to the unknown murderer one by one – Or is it the vengeful spirit of Nofret exacting her revenge on the family?

Christie puts together a really convincing ,  racy thriller in a timeline that we don’t have much idea about .  I think this book alone can establish  Christie’s unsurpassed mastery in crime fiction writing – I can’t recommend this enough .

Let me know in the comments section which books you loved from the above list if you have already read them or which books are you planning to pick up ?