10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Estimated read time 4 min read

People thought you changed into a corpse the instant you exhaled your last breath. But things were not clear-cut like that. Just as there were countless shades between jet black and brilliant white, so there were multiple stages of this thing called ‘eternal rest’.

Tequila Leila has been murdered and dumped in a dustbin somewhere in Istanbul, and her friends have no idea where she is. We are given a glimpse into Leila’s life from birth to how she ended up as a sex worker in Istanbul. 10 minutes 38 seconds after Leila dies, she recalls certain incidences and memories of her life and the taste of food and spices.

This book is in two parts. The first part is a journey with Leila into her past as she recalls the scent of food and essential events in 10 minutes and 38 seconds, while the second part focuses on the events after Leila’s body was found.

1st Minute

The first memory that came to her mind was about salt – its feel on her skin and taste on her tongue.

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2nd Minute

Leila’s mind recalled two contrasting tastes: lemon and sugar.

3rd Minute

She remembered cardamom coffee – strong, intense, dark. A taste forever associated in her mind with the street of brothels in Istanbul.

4th Minute

A fleeting memory surfaced in Leila’s mind, bringing with it the smell and taste of watermelon.

5th Minute

Leila recalled her brother’s birth. A memory carried the taste and smell of spiced goat stew – cumin, fennel seeds, cloves, onions, tomatoes, tail fat, and goat’s meat.

6th Minute

Leila pulled from her mental archive the smell of a wood-burning stove.

7th Minute

As Leila’s brain fought on, she remembered the taste of soil – dry, chalky, bitter.

8th Minute

The next memory that Leila pulled from her archive was the smell of sulphuric acid.

9th Minute

She now remembered D/Ali, and the thought of him brought along the taste of chocolate bonbons with surprise fillings inside – caramel, cherry paste, hazelnut praline.

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10th Minute

As time ticked away, Leila’s mind happily recollected the taste of her favorite street food: deep-fried mussels – flour, egg yolks, bicarbonate of soda, pepper, salt, and mussels fresh from the Black Sea.

10 Minutes and 20 Seconds

In the final seconds before her brain completely shut down, Leila remembered a three-tiered, all-white wedding cake layered with buttercream icing. Neatly perched on top was a ball of red wool with tiny knitting needles at its side, all made in sugar.

10 Minutes and 30 Seconds

In the final seconds before her brain surrendered, Tequila Leila recalled the taste of single malt whisky.

The Final 8 Seconds

The last thing Leila remembered was the taste of the homemade strawberry cake.

Nobody warned me about Elif Shafak, nobody. She is such a good writer, and her storytelling is everything.

This story centers on family, rape, religion, love, friendship, and integrity. Tequila Leila was a sex worker, and she took so much pride in her work, which I admired her for. She had to survive. I hated her father, and he was my least favorite person.

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I mean, how can you collect someone’s baby from her and give it to your first wife as a gift? Leila’s biological mother was used, and I hated that she didn’t even stand up for Leila when she told them that her uncle raped her multiple times. I hated the uncle too. So, so much. He didn’t deserve to live.

I admired Leila’s friendship with her four friends. It was so homely! They were the only family she knew, and they came through for her as a family, and I loved it. I loved the names of her friends – Nostalgia Nalan, Zaynab 122, and Sabotage … I wonder what inspired those names.

Elif is so, so good! Sooo good and underrated. In fact, I’m going on an Elif Shafak readathon because what an author! I recommend Elif any day, anytime!

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