10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World was one of my favourite books of 2019 so I was looking forward to seeing where Elif Shafak was going to go next.
Thanks to Penguin UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.
The story takes place across two different timelines. In current day London and 1970s Cyprus. The 1970s storyline follows Kostas and Defne, a teenage Christian and Muslim couple forced to keep their romance hidden from their families. The current day storyline follows Ada, the sixteen year old daughter of Kostas and Defne and her journey to come to terms with her mother’s death and the increasing emotional distance from her father.
This book yet again dabbles with elements of the supernatural but the main crux of the story is the conflict between Turkey and Greece and its lingering impact on the lives of those who suffered through the partition of Cyprus. I come from a Greek background and my knowledge of these events is sketchy even if I’ve always been aware of the antagonism running through Greek and Turkish relations. I met a Turkish guy at university who wouldn’t even talk to me anymore once he found out about my family background so these are feelings that are still very much alive.
Key to this story is a fig tree. The tree grew through the middle of the tavern where Kostas and Defne met in secret and is later transported by Kostas to London where he fights valiantly to keep it alive through a winter storm. The tree functions as a character and we get little snippets of insight into what it is thinking and feeling. I know it sounds a little weird but somehow it totally works.
It’s very rare for me to like both narratives in a dual narrative book but I equally enjoyed Kostas and Defne’s love story and Ada’s journey to uncover the truth about her parents’ story. The events covered in this book by nature make some parts tough to read. and terribly sad, but I think Shafak had managed to do justice to a situation that continues to scar people to this day.
The little twist at the end was bittersweet without acting as some big gotcha for the whole book
At it’s core this is really a book about love in all its forms, family, romantic, friends and those who have gone from the world. It’s a story that will linger with me for a long time.