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Booker Prize 2019 Longlist: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

10 minutes


Book 8 read and rated by Book Worm, Tracy, Lisa, Nicole and Susie and we have a big difference in opinion over this one…

Synopsis from the Booker Prize website: 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. . .

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I adored this book and as the story progressed I fell in love with Leila and all her weird and wonderful friends, despite the fact that the book begins with Leila’s death I was still shocked when it actually happened in the narrative.

I love the fact that we have a diverse cast of characters and that all of the women portrayed are strong in their own way. I also enjoyed learning about Turkish superstitions and local beliefs.

Throughout the story I found myself lost in Istanbul and swept up by events as they unfolded. I was also captivated by life in the Turkish countryside and the complicated family dynamic that Leila grew up in.

I appreciate the authors note at the back which tells the reader which sections are based in fact and also provided statistics about the treatment of women in general and sex workers in particular.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: I love Elif Shafak- I have read a handful of her books, and have plans to read her backlist. Her writing style is just right for me.

This is Leila’s story- a prostitute who has been killed and dumped in a Istanbul trash heap. The 10 minutes and 38 seconds of the title are the last minutes before her brain stops activity completely. Her life flashing before her eyes, if you will. And what a life she lived!

This story is timely, has diverse characters, and addresses women’s issues from the eyes of a woman who is considered the lowest of the low. Yet she has love and friends. There is so much in this book, and it is handled deftly by Shafak.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 3.5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17.5/20

Susie’s Thoughts: My immediate thought upon finishing this book was that I must have read the wrong book! Unfortunately, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds was not for me. I found the characters to be painted too broadly, leading to me feeling no emotional connection to any of them, including the protagonist. The life stories of the five friends were given such a narrow focus that I didn’t care to remember anything about them. I felt as though the writing relied too heavily upon the melodramatic, and I found myself eye rolling on several occasions. The effort that Shafak made was palpable and somewhat forced to me, and I was never able to settle in to the narrative. The dialogue came across as clunky, and although there were glimmers of pretty prose when describing Instanbul, it was not enough to lift it from a mediocre reading experience. 

Writing quality: 2/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 1/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 0.5/2
Total: 8.5/20

Nicole’s Thoughts:

Hot tip: If you put a transgender person in your novel this year, you too are probably longlisted for the 2019 Booker. I’m SO GLAD this is over. Shudder.

I’m going to Turkey next year, so I was eager to read this book. There were (a rare few) good aspects of the book dealing with the culture, traditions and personality of Turkey.  I also enjoyed Shafak’s take on “your life flashing before your eyes”.  It was a great concept, poor execution.

This book was like The Five-People You Meet in Heaven (somebody MADE me read it) only these are Five-Stereotypes You Meet in a Gutter in Istanbul.  The story was trite.  (SPOILER) There have been many books dealing with sexual abuse of a minor that have been done well.  Lolita, and The End of Alice come to mind.  Though that’s not the main thread of this story, it certainly precipitated the events of the story. (END SPOILER).  Books dealing with abuse can be difficult to read, but provide outstanding reader experiences.  This book used it as a crutch.  Tequila Lelia may as well have been described as a hooker with a heart of gold.

The “friends” were nothing but words on a page.

Really disappointed by the whole thing.

Writing quality: 2.5/5
Originality: 1/5
Character development: 1/4
Plot development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 0/2
Total: 5.5/20

Lisa Thoughts: I started off appreciating this story of how a young girl from a middle-class family in Turkey becomes a prostitute in Istanbul. However, as the story continued, I started to lose interest. There were a lot of pieces of stories of other people’s lives – her friends, and her murderer – but the pieces never  developed into anything substantive. The end of the story, where the friends band together for a mission, just seemed unnecessary. Although the writing style was clear and straightforward, which I like, it was not exciting or innovative in any way. So, I would be surprised if this made the shortlist. 

Writing quality: 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development:2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 11 /20


The Man Who Saw Everything 18.2
Lanny 15.92
Frankissstein 15.2
My Sister, the Serial Killer 14.6
An Orchestra of Minorities 13.66
Lost Children Archive 13.3
10 Minutes 38 Seconds 12

The Wall 11.57

What are your thoughts on this one will it make the short list?

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. my review is lost, I guess. I gave it 5.5


    August 21, 2019
  2. I’m surprised by how divided we are on this book, would love to know what others think!

    Liked by 1 person

    August 21, 2019
  3. Reblogged this on The Sardonic Reviewer.


    August 21, 2019
  4. pbtanita #

    Wow! Wish I read this one to see which side of the huge divide I would fall. Interesting how divided the panel is this year on several book selections!


    August 21, 2019
  5. pbtanita #

    Finally finished this one, and I am pretty much in Camp Lisa.


    September 21, 2019
  6. I may try this one


    November 5, 2021

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