Chair of the 2019 Booker Prize judges, Peter Florence, said:
“If you only read one book this year, make a leap. Read all 13 of these. There are Nobel candidates and debutants on this list. There are no favourites; they are all credible winners. They imagine our world, familiar from news cycle disaster and grievance, with wild humour, deep insight and a keen humanity. These writers offer joy and hope. They celebrate the rich complexity of English as a global language. They are exacting, enlightening and entertaining. Really – read all of them.”
[Leila's] last precious moments of consciousness form the novel’s first half, as Leila’s thoughts alight on tastes and sensations — lemon and sugar, cardamom coffee, sulphuric acid, single malt whisky and strawberry birthday cake — that evoke vivid memories. Her upbringing in distant Van, steeped in folklore and ritual, is marred by the conflicting parental claims of her father’s two wives, abuse at the hands of her uncle, a longed-for brother’s disability and a refusal to play the pliant, submissive daughter. Often her recollections are linear; sometimes not. After all, ‘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’.
Although the depth to which we can know each character is - perhaps inevitably -marred somewhat by its ambitious scope (six lives in 10 minutes), as with all of this author’s works, it is fuelled by a vivid, sensual passion and enriched by her signature fusion of fact and fiction... More than in any of her works thus far, Istanbul itself is a powerful narrative force. The author uses the formidable city and its history like a lens through which to explore her recurring themes of women’s rights, gender equality, political repression and the fate of migrants in an increasingly populist Europe. In this way, the early-seventies story of a prostitute and her band of renegade mates is at once that of Tequila Leila, but also a take on a contemporary Mediterranean metropolis experiencing a political and cultural crisis and challenged by the movement of 21st century populations. Shafak has said, “a conversation with the past is another way of talking to the present”. It’s the aspect of her work that draws most of her readers and which has made her one of Turkey’s best selling novelists. With this latest title, she does not disappoint.
It’s a novel with a powerful premise, good intentions and an ingenious framing device. What’s more, Shafak is an inspiration to writers across the globe: a passionate feminist and champion of free speech who writes about political and sexual taboos... What a shame, then, that 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange Land is so flat and flavourless... The second half shifts focus to Leila’s “water family” – the outcasts who provide a safety net when her blood relatives desert her... This group of oddballs are known as “the five”, which makes them sound like a squad from a Marvel franchise. I don’t think that’s accidental – there’s something a little gimmicky and schematic about the whole setup. What begins as an incisive investigation into violence against women becomes both preachy and hammy as the friends go to dig up her grave and the action descends into farce... Where Shafak does excel is in conjuring Istanbul, a “struggling, competing, clashing” place she can no longer visit. In many ways, the book is a love letter to the city and its most stirring passages bring alive its tensions.
[It's] an extraordinary tale of a brutalised, broken but profoundly courageous woman who retains her humanity despite a world bent on crushing her at every turn. We see beautifully rendered, tender vignettes of her early lifeFor more than half the book... [T]he reader is guided by Leila’s vibrant but soon to be extinguished memory, each reminiscence sparked by a smell or taste. It’s a terrific device, taking us from the rubbish bin to a day in her childhood when she is banned by her pious father from playing with a hula hoop... Shafak takes a piercing, unflinching look at the trauma women’s minds and bodies are subjected to in a social system defined by patriarchal codes. It’s a brutal book, bleak and relentless in its portrayal of violence, heartbreak and grief, but ultimately life-affirming. Here, as in Shafak’s previous work, we find the good old-fashioned art of intricate storytelling, something I miss sometimes in modern fiction.
[Shafak] is drawn to people at the margins and writes with immense compassion about those too damaged, defiant or different to fit in... The novel is no masterpiece — its prose can feel functional and is sometimes too emphatic — but the story Shafak weaves is deeply moving. And it can often be surprisingly upbeat, as Leila, an outcast herself, assembles around her a merry band of misfits who love her better than her blood family ever could. The result is imaginative and admirably tight, a novel that paints a memorable and nuanced picture of life on the fringes of Turkish society.
The novels of the Turkish writer Elif Shafak are so beguiling that it’s easy to forget she is a serious activist and academic. Yet beneath the lush scene-setting and romantic storytelling, her bestselling tales about modern Turkey and Islam (The Bastard of Istanbul; The Forty Rules of Love) are strident calls to challenge fundamentalism and misogyny in the Middle East... There is so much beauty in this book: the value of the “chosen family” to marginalised individuals; Istanbul itself, that “liquid city”; the grace of a Muslim father who would never strike his daughter, however much he feared her choices. And there’s wisdom too, courtesy of Leila’s fabulous trans friend Nalan: “No one should try to philosophise on the nature of humanity until they have worked in a public toilet for a couple of weeks.” Thanks to Shafak, the voices of women like Nalan and Leila will no longer be silenced.
Turkey’s most widely read female novelist, her latest work written in English, 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World, is everything we have come to expect from Shafak. Here is not only that exquisite compassion and trademark humanity but also a vibrant evocation of a hidden Istanbul in the middle of the 20th century; touching, idiosyncratic friendships and the complex inner lives of the female characters for which she has long been known... This is a novel that gives voice to the invisible, the untouchable, the abused and the damaged, weaving their painful songs into a thing of beauty.