In 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World, Elif Shafak creates a rich cast of characters and uses them to explore themes of trauma, love and friendship. The novel is (for it’s first half) a first person narrative told by Leila, who we find at the start dead in a rubbish bin. She is a sex worker who has been murdered. As she dies, she reminisces on the formative experiences in her life and the friendships she has formed, which go on to shape the second half of the story.
Sexual violence is a recurring motif in the book and Shafak doesn’t shy away from exploring the effect it can have on a person. But she is keen to stress that these experiences do not define her characters, and infuses them with a warm core of humanity. This is story about those living on the fringe of society and the family they create with one another.
All this is to say that Shafak has accomplished something quite special: she has created a novel that is at once a condemnation of the treatment of the marginalized, and particularly women, in society and an uplifting narrative. To do so alongside an explicit critique of modern Turkish history and society is impressive. Although this isn’t top of my list to win the prize, I can wholeheartedly recommend it.