Elif Shafak’s 11th novel, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, opens to the early dawn in the outskirts of Istanbul, where Tequila Leila is lying in a dirty dumpster, still wearing her her eight-inch purple slingback stilettos. She is dead. Her heart has stopped beating. Her skin is changing color to the grayish-white of a ghost. Yet her brain hasn’t quite stopped thinking. For 10 minutes and 38 seconds, Tequila Leila recounts flashbacks of people, places and things from her childhood in the tiny village of Van to her life as a prostitute in Istanbul. Try as she might to remember how she was murdered, what she ultimately remembers are five friendships and a very pink birthday cake.
These recollections, which begins from her birth in January 1947 to her death in November 1990, give glimpses of life as a woman in a country where personal, political and moral values are heavily dictated by religion and men. These glimpses are heartbreaking. They are unfair. And yet they also represent courage, beauty and hope, like a rag-tag team of misfits who are determined to stick it to the man against all odds.
Born in Strasbourg, France, to Turkish parents, author Elif Shafak moved to Ankara, Turkey, in the early 1970s after her parents divorced. Raised by a single mother in a strongly patriarchal environment, Shafak grew up in a lonely and curious world suspended between her independent, forward-thinking mother and a more spiritual, uneducated, old-world grandmother. This remarkable coexistence has made her not only the most widely read female author in Turkey but also an award-winning international author and TED speaker.