10 Minutes 38 Seconds in the Strange World by Elif Shafak (Penguin paperback 8.99)

We have been running a book club at the bookshop for 23 years. It is currently on a break due to the pandemic but is hoping to get back soon. This will be the first book to be discussed when we regroup.

We love books that take us away to places we may not have been to and introduce us to people we haven’t really thought about before, the outcasts. This novel is about the life and friendships of Tequila Lelia. She is an Istanbul prostitute and the story starts with her newly-dead status. But it is a story of survival and resilience.

Lelia begins her life in a village far away from Istanbul. Her family is rife with secrets and misery. She escapes to the city of Istanbul where she finds friendship and love despite the harsh reality of life as a sex worker. Istanbul in the early Seventies is a place in turmoil. 

Communist secular activists clash with the Muslim establishment. There are riots and civil unrest. From their viewpoint at the periphery of society, change is viewed in different ways. Her friends are vividly portrayed, a hotchpotch of nationalities and personalities all swept up in the swirling metropolis.

They have all escaped from something and it is fitting in the end they stay together to make a new family. The city too plays its part. The book is beautifully written and carefully balanced so that the darkness is eased by the light. A late-night trip to the cemetery is turned into a madcap road trip as the friends are determined to give Lelia a proper send off. The book is hopeful and celebrates diversity.  This is a book you want to savour and then share. 

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