An intensely powerful new novel from the best-selling author of The Bastard of Istanbul and Honour
‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’
For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .
I usually post a review as soon as I finish the book but for this one, I wasn’t sure how to start. It’s a very unusual story as our main character is already dead when the story begins and in the first ten minutes, when your brain is still functioning, Leila (our main character) recalls her past life and all the people associated with it. One by one, in each minute, the story unfolds from Leila’s childhood memories to her ending up in a brothel.
The story is set in Istanbul and I love reading about the places I have already visited so Shafak’s novels are always for my liking since I love her settings.
Leila’s life begins in a dysfunctional family where she has two mothers — one who gave her birth but called as aunt and another one – not her birth mother but her mother with all the rights. Leila suffers child abuse and rape from her paternal uncle and begins self-loathing, completely blaming herself for the horror. This is very true in this case as mostly in Eastern culture, girls are to be blamed and even if one voices her opinion or share her horror, she is asked to stay quiet. No one blames the uncle or any male in the family. Broken-hearted and pressurised by her father who has now radicalised at this point in the story, Leila decides to run away at the age of sixteen and starts her new life in Istanbul. She ends up with the wrong people and hence ends up in a brothel.
In her younger days, she makes five friends who are very dear to her. The story starts with the end of Leila’s murder and how, like many other prostitutes in the city are sent to the ‘cemetery of companionless. Distraught by this action, Leila’s five friends vow to exhume her body and give her a proper funeral as for them, she isn’t companionless or nameless. She has a name. She has friends regardless if her family has abandoned her.
The story sits right in the belly of Istanbul, shows the bloodless bond of friendship and gory secrets that lay beneath our cultural values.