10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

I got Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World from Shakespeare & Company in Paris, when the author came down for a reading. I stood out for about an hour to hear her speak, and then some more in a queue to get my book signed. This back story is just to iterate that I am a fan of this Turkish-British novelist, who also penned the acclaimed ‘The Forty Rules of Love’.

Book Review

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World is a story of a sex worker, who is ruthlessly murdered, and then lives another 10 minutes while being dead. Though her body has given up, her mind is alive, racing through the meadows of her life – some happy and others marred with injustice and misery. Then there are additional stories of the main characters of her life, and how they came to be a part of her famous 5. They are each as eccentric as her, and live life unapologetically.

This piece of fiction also has some reflections from the author’s real life, and that adds a special touch to it. Her writing is engaging and descriptive, and her penchant for drama evokes all kinds of emotions during the 320-page read. It also illustrates her complicated relationship with the city – Istanbul. She goes on to explore its many facets, hopping between good ol’ days and grimy present day, adding to the allure of the metropolitan.

It’s a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and would recommend to those who take pleasure in reading fiction or/and like her previous work.

My Favourite Quotes from 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak:

“Oh, I like it here; I am not going out there again.”

“Don’t be silly. Why stay in a place where nothing ever happens? It’s boring.”

“Why leave a place where nothing ever happens? Because it’s safe.”

“Just because it’s safe here, it doesn’t mean this is the right place for you. Sometimes where you feel most safe is where you least belong.”

Cry, my dear. Never be ashamed of your tears. Cry, and everyone knows you’re alive.

Getting through life unscathed depends to a large extent on two fundamental principles; knowing the right time to arrive and knowing the right time to leave.

Home is not where you are born but where you chose to die.

Make friends, good ones. Loyal ones. No one can survive alone. And remember, in the desert of life, the fool travels alone and the wise by caravan.

As a rule, people who overuse the word ’natural’ do not know much about the ways of Mother Nature. If you told them how snails, worms and black sea bass were hermaphrodites, or male seahorses could give birth, or male clownfish turned female halfway through their lives, or male cuttlefish were transvestites, they would be surprised. Anyone who studied nature closely would think twice before using the word ’natural’.

There is something markedly similar about the experience of being overweight and being prone to melancholy. In both cases society blamed the sufferer. No other medical condition was regarded this way. People with any other illness received at least a degree of sympathy and moral support. Not the obese or the depressed. You could have controlled your appetite… You could have controlled your thoughts.

“Why are you trying to fight depression?”

“Because that’s what I’m supposed to do…everyone says.”

“People always told me to fight depression as well. But I have a feeling that as soon as we see something as our enemy we make it stronger. Like a boomerang. You hurl it away, it comes back and hits you with equal force. Maybe what you need is to befriend your depression.”

“What a funny thing to say, honey. How am I to do that?”

“Well, think about it: a friend is someone you can walk with in the dark and learn lots of things from. But you also know you are different people – you and your friend. You are not your depression. You are much more than what your mood is today or tomorrow.”

“All these books on Sufism, Indian philosophy and yoga – it seems that all these things, easy and handy though they claimed to be, were essentially designed for people who were healthier, happier or simply luckier than you. How could meditation help you to quieten your mind when you need to quieten your mind in order to meditate?”

Why load people with information they wouldn’t know what to do with?

Human beings resemble peregrine falcons: they had the power and the ability to soar up to the skies, free and ethereal and unrestrained, but sometimes they would also, either under duress or of their own free will, accept captivity.

She had seen at close hand how falcons would perch on their captors’ shoulders, obediently waiting for the next treat or command. The falconer’s whistle, the call that ended freedom. She had also observed how a hood would be put on these noble raptors to make sure they would not panic. Seeing was knowing, and knowing was frightening. Every falconer knew that the less it saw, the calmer the bird.

But underneath that hood where there were no directions, and the sky and the land melted into a swathe of black linen, though comforted, the falcon would still feel nervous, as if in preparation for a blow that could come at any moment. Years later now, it seemed to her that religion – and power and money and ideology and politics – acted like a hood too. All these superstitions and predictions and beliefs deprived human beings of sight, keeping them under control, but deep within weakening their self-esteem to such a point that they now feared anything, everything.

What is love if not nursing someone else’s pain as if it were your own?

Istanbul is a liquid city. Nothing is permanent here . Nothing felt settled. It all must have begun thousands of years ago when the ice sheets melted, the sea levels rose, the floodwaters surged, and all known ways of life were destroyed.

When all is destroyed, pessimists are the first to flee the area, probably; the optimists would choose to wait and see how things would turn out. One of the endless tragedies of human history is that pessimists are better at surviving than optimists, which meant that, logically speaking, humanity carries the genes of people who did not believe in humanity.