Focus on 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World - Booker Prize 2019

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The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades. Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.

The full shortlist of six titles can be found here, but in this series of articles we will look at each title in detail.

10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World

‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’

For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .

Llangollen Library Reading Group

About the group

Llangollen Library Reading Group are a group of keen readers who meet, as the title suggests, in Llangollen Library. We meet once a month to discuss a chosen book over a glass of wine. We were established during the wave of new book groups in the late 1990s.Anyone is welcome to join the group. Members range from young mums to retired lorry drivers. We try to read every genre – literary, classics, popular, children’s which is one of the strengths of the group as it pushes our boundaries, and introduces us to new authors and genres. Although the closest we have got to horror is perhaps Frankenstein (which wasn’t the book I expected it to be…). We have also read books in tandem- Welsh and English where the book has been written in both languages.
We are excited at shadowing the Booker Prize because it adds an extra frisson to our conversation about a book. We will be able to compare what the critics and judges say about our book, and determine whether they have made the correct choice in their winner.

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Thoughts on the book

Our group mostly loved it, using words like “gripping”, “brilliant” and “evocative”. From a group of 12, the average score was 8 out of 10.

There was a high degree of unanimity in the responses to the first part (The Mind) of this tripartite novel which opens in the first minutes after the death of Leila, a prostitute in Istanbul. We praised the vividness and beauty of the writing, the immediacy of smells, sounds and tastes; we felt anger towards Leila’s family for their silent collusion with her abuser, and sadness for her birth mother Binnaz, deprived of her daughter; and we shared her quiet celebration of the power of love and friendship developed with her five friends and lover, who all had their own back stories of oppression and rejection.

Human rights in all their forms are a preoccupation of Shafak’s and that came through clearly as we traced the stories of Leila and those closest to her, the role of family, religion and the state and the fates of those who, for diverse reasons, will always be outsiders. But we saw also the level of freedom found by Leila and her friends within those constraints.

Some of our group felt that the second part of the book (The Body), when it is no longer describing Leila’s life was less successful, where the emotional tension of The Mind is replaced by slapstick as the friends exhume Leila’s body and career around Istanbul looking for a more suitable resting place. However there was general approval for part three (The Soul) which in a very satisfying way brings Leila back to her beginning. As one of our group summed up, “there’s a lot of horrible stuff but that’s not what stayed with me”. Ultimately uplifting and highly recommended.

Pennine Care Book Club

About the group

Our book group is made up of staff who work for Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. Our expert knowledge management team helped to set It up and we have a core membership of staff who love reading. We meet monthly, agree the next book, (using the fabulous book club loan service from Tameside Public Library), and really appreciate the variety of views and experiences of those in the group. We meet in our Trusts Health and Wellbeing College with aim of providing accessibility to students of the college too. We are very excited to be part of the Booker Prize for a number of reasons, it is lovely to get a new book to read; we are all up for a challenge and like to be stretched in what we read and it feels great to be part of something bigger than our group.

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Thoughts on the book

We had mixed reactions to Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World so it’s difficult to write up a consensus. We did enjoy the book and found the writing intriguing.

Shafak certainly writes in a beautifully clever and descriptive way that draws the reader in, albeit perhaps not until later in the book for some. The book was a relatively unchallenging read and there were elements of brilliance. We appreciated the move away from the normal linear structure in the first section, which meant we could dip in and out at leisure as opposed to rushing through.

“Her memory surged forth, eager and diligent, collecting pieces of a life that was speeding to a close….. Time became fluid, a fast flow of recollections speeding into one another, the past and present inseparable.”

The events that occur are starkly poignant, distressing at times, but not exclusively so. As such it wasn’t a miserable read and left the reader feeling uplifted and reflective by the end. Leila, whilst not necessarily radiating warmth to every reader, is kind, optimistic and drawn to society’s outcasts: her brother, husband, wonderfully diverse group of friends, and even her cat. The love emanating from these characters is a non-gushing, understated but strong love.

Some readers felt that Shafak uses her background knowledge to create a dominant sociopolitical commentary on Turkey which lost engagement, others felt that the ‘message’ wasn’t that politically powerful and were more able to enjoy the characters, plot and themes of feminism, family, friendship and community. At times, the book reads like a series of short stories which caused irritation for some, but they do come together to allow the plot to develop in a more gratifying way.

So within our reading group, some loved it, some disliked it, some were indifferent. This book is not an automatic recommendation from us, but we did relish the lively and entertaining discussion.

Get involved

Have you read 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World? Do you want to know what other readers thought? Leave your own review online.

Want to know more? Download a Readers’ Guide for 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World, including information about the author, as well as some discussion notes and themed reading.

Find out about the other books on the shortlist.

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