Review: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

As I See It!!!

28th nov 2019 Thursday

Eloquent; the first thought that comes to the mind when one starts reading the novel; the words flow effortlessly and naturally. Quite descriptive with elaborate details about minute things. The novel keeps one hooked by starting it with the end. The initial impression is that the suspense has to do with what happened in the past and not with what will happen. Empathy; the sense of prolonged suffering of body and soul during those seemingly few minutes.

And interesting! HOWEVER, it leaves one with a bad taste. Despite wanting to know about the protagonist’s past, every time One picks up the novel, it gives a creepy cringy feeling. The obsession with cleanliness seem to pass from Binnaz and Leila to the reader, and leaves one with a disgusted feeling towards the filth one carries in the hand. The remarks might sound harsh, but maybe it’s the power of this dark book, written as if it’s a random thought evolving in one’s mind, smoothly flowing so as to recreate the characters moving around with their inadequate circumstances, that keeps suffocating the reader.

Feminism; among the first few thoughts about the book, however these are shortly negated as one finds the father, despite having a somewhat negative character, to be a sane one, with wishing health for the girl child as well as future aspiration of her being a part of the school; indicating that he must have had imagined education and prosperity for her. Also, the way he wants to compensate for the loss of Suzan indicates how he has been played in the hands of a female character. The way he declares the change of the mother for the child in a firm but gentle manner, somehow gives us a figure who holds not just authority but humility as well.

Frustration; another thought on reading the book! Too many ideas and issues crammed into one book, that grasping and contemplating over anything becomes almost impossible. The moment one starts to think about child marriages or unregistered marriages or mental illness, comes rushing the miseries of sexual workers, with a slight glimpse of the issues of illegal labour, then rushes in the trans genders, shoving in child abuse, the conflict between rigid abstract beliefs and westernisation, the plight of the refugees, the companionless being denied death rituals. Nothing sinks in. BUT at the same time it represents life, for life itself encompasses huge diversities. I feel nobody as a writer can touch upon all the characters and all the issues surrounding the protagonist in a single book, and thus has to highlight one or a few with a certain point of view. However, in the case of the book under discussion, the writer hints upon as many ideas as can be gathered and leaves a lot on the imagination of the reader, having an encounter with life itself but through death, making them feel how imposing and dominant the life itself can be, with little control over the events, and with choices not having a real impact on anything.

On choices; Leila’s choice of leaving her home, or moving with Bitter Ma, or marriage, doesnot improve anything significantly for her. Nalan’s choice only multiplies her miseries, with her hands being symbolic of how little control a human has. Jameelah and Humeyra both find themselves in a far bigger chaos with one’s health condition and the other’s identity problem. Sabotage’s inability to choose what he wants, is a part of his character, something that he rids only under the influence of Vodka. Only Zaynab seems to have accepted her sufferings but that too with a sense of defiance. Despite all the efforts to exercise control over their lives, we are presented with characters who fall more due to the fate than their tragic flaw. And despite flowing through the mind of Leila, during those 10 minutes and 38 seconds, feelings of pity and fear are hard to be evoked, Leila in her mind fails to assert the strength that she had possessed when she was alive.

Overall impact of the book: abysmal, dark and bleak. Can be summed up as a commentary on life itself; life being what it is only for the person who lives it, with memories swarming in the brain all at the same time and making sense only to the person who has experienced the same, with little or no control over how things can be.

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