Literature | 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

‘Just because you think it’s safe here, it doesn’t mean this is the right place for you, her heart countered. Sometimes where you feel most safe is where you least belong.’ 

Elif Shafak, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World 

The premise of the book is fascinating: drawing on a scientific paper which concluded that after the heart has stopped beating the brain continue to function for an additional 10 minutes and 38 seconds. On the positive side, the flashbacks to the childhood of the protagonist highlighted the importance of education for women and gave insight into their ‘secret’ world when men were out of sight. I enjoyed the intensity and intimacy of the female bonding and friendships. 

As with the Three Daughters of Eve (TDE), I detected an underlying disdain for Islam in her writing. The notion that ’practicing’ muslims are incapable of expressing compassion, tolerance and kindness, and they’re all extreme and anti-women seems to be a subtle theme (in the 2 books I’ve read). And what is this obsession with virginity? In TDE she writes exactly the same scene with the wedding night bed linen. Dull. Shafak often comments that she like to discuss religious and sexual taboos, but does that translate to writing the same scene in two consecutive books? 

What troubles me most is her presentation of the idea that social ‘outsiders’ – a sex worker, a dwarf, an immigrant etc. – are people, have desires and need to love and be loved. This is not news to me, and I found her tone is patronising and demeaning. I feel she exploits the characters life choices and belittles her readership with an almost caricaturization of her subjects. The idea of accepting & supporting each other as people rather than labels/differing beliefs/physicalities is a way of life for me, and not a remotely unusual concept. 

Another problematic read from Shafak. I’ve read about her childhood, the conservative town she returned to following her parents divorce and the impact of her maternal grandmother in her life. I would be keen to read her autobiography, but it’s highly unlikely I’d buy/read another of her novels.

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