10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Short listed for the Booker Prize 2019

By Caroline Fakhri

I loved 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World, written by Elif Shafak. I’m not sure if the title would have drawn me to read it but hearing Shafak speak about the story so eloquently, at Asia House, London, got me hooked and contrary to my usual practice of only reading physical books, I bought a digital version immediately.

In the story which is set between 1947 and 1990, Shafak brings the main characters to life and I ended up admiring them all, especially Leila, for their strength in the face of so much prejudice in a conservative Turkey where misfits and social outcasts were and are left on the fringes of society.

The ‘strange’ title relates to the science of the brain still continuing to live on in a dead body for ten minutes and 38 seconds, in Leila’s case, after a person has died and it is through this period of time that Leila relates her memories, to us the reader, evoked by sounds and smells from her life.

The book is in three parts and it is in Part One that we learn about Leila, her early life in the East of Turkey and her childhood memories, which deal with some difficult subjects such as child molestation/ incest, polygamy and suppression of women. Shafak does not shy away from these and paints a realistic picture of the taboos and cultural difficulties of a very conservative Turkey. Also in Part One we learn why Leila leaves her home city and goes to Istanbul and the events that led her to become a prostitute.

We also learn about Leila’s five close friends who stand by her, and each other, through thick and thin and without giving too much away, regarding how the story ends, her rescue from eternal loneliness in the Cemetery of the Companionless. I felt sad when the story through Leila’s eyes ended as I didn’t enjoy the second and third parts as much. In comparison to Part One, the story, as seen through the eyes of the friends, did not hold my attention as I felt the characters lacked the same intensity that they had when seen through Leila’s eyes.

Shafak brings to life the atmosphere as well as the visual sights and sounds which evoke Turkey. She brings the vibrant city of Istanbul into the reader’s imagination by way of the descriptions of the smells and taste of the food, the chaotic city streets with their never ending traffic, the heat of the summer months, the damp cold of the winter time and the jostling crowds. Shafak also portrays the suffocating atmosphere of a provincial city from fifty or so years ago where deep cultural beliefs are never far from the surface, women are cloistered and secrets are kept carefully locked away.

Elif Shafak, photo Hurriyet Daily News

At the homefront : The Stationery Shop of Tehran Marjan Kamali Simon and Schuster UK Ltd 2019

The Stationery Shop of Tehran, Marjan Kamali

by Caroline Fakhri

A beautiful love story set in Iran, the nuances of Persian culture and Persian life, in contrast to the easy going Americans, are conveyed in intricate detail making the book come alive.

The structure of the story keeps you guessing until the end as to how all of the characters link up and who and what is the significance of Mr Fakhri and his bookshop?

The story begins in Tehran 1953, a country on the brink of political unrest. Marjan Kamali portrays the two lovestruck characters Roya and Bahman with such clarity you feel as if you know them. As their love for each other grows they defy the strict moral code of conduct and plan for an engagement. Suddenly, shockingly, violence erupts, forever changing their country’s future, as well as their own.

As American novelist, short story writer, and essayist Elinor Lipman puts it on the back cover "Masterfully plotted, beautifully written and filled with characters who are arresting, loveable and so real.”

Published by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd 2019

A very LAAF type of book

Despite being starting in March some 15 years after 11 November 1918, "The Order of The Day' is a very November sort of read.

Impressionist and factual at the same time it features excellent quality of writing.

Thin and light in shape and weight it is dense and poignant in content and impact; and easy to carry around and read on public transport. It provides a sober, contemporary reading of old European events. A reading that can be transformed into a tool and used to analyse the present.

The translation reads magnificently, which doesn't stop me from tormenting myself with the question: "Saving the planet demands reading books in the local language. Books, just like all else, shouldn't be flown, should they?"

I am trying to convince myself that reading books in their original tongue is vanity.

I hope that my sacrifice of not demanding Clément to bring 'L'ordre du jour' from France, will be the feather that will outweight the cheap labour hands flown weekly from London to construction sites in Manchester, Dublin or whereverelsenot and then flown back for family weekends in an endless displacing of those already displaced.

3 November 2019

Soho Reads

Khanif Koreishi - Suburban Buddha

LAAF Reads

LAAF Reads its Uncle

Uncle like in the brother of my father. More on Mahmoud Saeed and The World Through the Eyes of Angels and his other books coming soon.

This particular copy of the book was bought at Blackwell's, Oxford, where they had two more titles of Mahmoud Saeed.

Review coming soon