I had guessed it right that this book would make it to the Booker Prize shortlist . The premise of a life – story told through the final string of memories that the clinically dead person has , before the brain shuts down , was fascinating . During the final moments , when the brain tries think in its oxygen – deprived state , obviously it is going to throw up the memories / impressions which it had formed strongly . . .
The book is divided into three sections – Mind , Body and Soul .
As it can be easily guessed , the Mind section tells the story of Tequila Leila , through her swansong – memories . Somehow , the mind seems to ” remember ” every object of her memory by its smell and taste – curious , isn ‘ t it ? With every ticking minute , Leila ‘ s brain throws up another deep – seated memory – the taste of spiced goat stew , the goat sacrificed by her father to celebrate the birth of her brother ; the taste of the home – made lemon & sugar waxing mixture used by the women in the neighborhood to wax their legs ; the taste of cardamom tea shared with a handsome University student whom she fell in love with , when he takes shelter in the brothel where she works ; the smell and taste of watermelon and the memories of a summer vacation with family . . .
Every memory gives us a glimpse into a key event in Leila ‘ s life and the friend she made because of that incident . . .
Leila & her friends – their story
Leyla Afife ( full of virtue ) Kamile ( high in merit ) , the daughter of a tailor in the city of Van , rechristened herself as Tequila Leila , following her elopement from her home and subsequent entanglement with prostitution in Istanbul . Yes , her middle and last names seem to make a mockery of her . . .
She has five close friends in the city of Istanbul – Nostalgia Nalan , Sabotage Sinan ( the only man in this girl gang ) , Jameelah , Hollywood Humeyra and Zaynab122 . Each has his / her own story on how they ended up where they are today and how he / she became friends with Leila . Their stories are as fascinating as Leila ‘ s . Like her , they are from the fringes of the society and Istanbul , the bustling Turkish capital would not miss them if one of them turns up dead one day . . . Like Leila , they too , might become news on national television if they were also murdered gruesomely ; the newspapers might carry reports about their deaths , but they will first seek to reassure the ” normal female citizens ” that there is no threat for them . They had known all of this but until Leila ‘ s death they had not been slapped on the face with it . . .
The author uses several significant events of Leila ‘ s short life as pointers to the patriarchal society ‘ s aspects . Some of them below :
- how her mother ‘ s frequent miscarriages ( a few even nearly fatal ) except for Leila ‘ s birth did not deter her father to keep trying for a son . . . And how her mother relies on the birth of the child ( preferably a boy ) to cement her place in the family , her being the second wife of Leila ‘ s father .
- how right – wing ideologies slowly infiltrate ordinary families when the men of the family , like Leila ‘ s father , are brainwashed by right-wing ” spiritual leaders ” into restricting the women folk and the children of the house in order to ” put an end to this man – made regime and bring back God – made sharia ” . So , meetings with any of the progressive neighbors , ” alla franga “ magazines , newspapers , TV – watching –
almostevery single aspect that had provided the ladies some news about the world outside their doorstep had to be banned . . .
- how the ” reputation ” of the girl was more important than addressing the abuse the girl had suffered . . . Everything else should be swept under the carpet . . .
- how her being a prostitute , seemed to imply that there is no need for sympathy in the way she met her end ; how , even the youngsters , had been taught to view her as a ” fallen ” woman who had no claim to their pity / sympathy but only deserved all the scorn and revulsion one could muster .
- how Leila had to deal with every random ” righteous ” man ‘ s ire as she is seen as a blot on the society . . . Finally , she had to die in the hands of one such man who had taken it upon himself ” to turn whores into angels ” .
There is no forced inclusion of plot elements to illustrate these themes – the story rolls seamlessly . The author has tried out some new analogies which are interesting .
What is the story of Tequila Leila , the prostitute whose body was found in a dustbin in Istanbul ? What are the friends ‘ stories and the stories behind some of the nicknames ?
Now , having been forced to face the society ‘ s apathy and worse still , the judgmental opinions , they decide to give their friend a decent funeral . Normally , people like Leila ‘ s and her friends will be put up in the Cemetery of the Companionless when they died . The fact that Leila had friends who were ready to give her a proper funeral did not matter to the state – when a body is unclaimed or refused by the family , the person is buried in the ” Cemetery of the Companionless ” in Kilyos , no more questions asked . . .
So , the five friends make a rash decision to dig out Leila from her grave in the cemetery at night . . . They go about muddling in the Scooby – Doo gang style . . . [ perhaps this parallel is due to Scooby Doo being in the news very often , these last few days . . . ]
What happened to their mission ? Was it successful or not ?
Finally , Leila ‘ s soul gets free and makes an acquaintance she had long wanted to . . . Who is it ??
Summing it all up –
To sum it up , the writing & the story has the reader turning the pages fast . . . With the life story of a prostitute , the writer has had the space to pack several segments which mirror the society ‘ s attitude to the people on the fringes and it ‘ s misogynistic tendencies and she has done a commendable job . . .
In the backdrop of the characters ‘ lives , history is always in the making – the construction of the Bosphorous bridge , the massacre in Istanbul on International Workers ‘ Day ( 1997 ) . . . Sometimes , characters are present in the moment when events , which had made to the history books since then , were being enacted – often without them realizing it . Of course , we all are or will be . . .
Perhaps , the midnight grave digging and all that drama , brought this book down to sit with all other populist contemporary fiction in the bookshelves . . . With only the first section , it would have been in a league of its own . . .
Still , I hope the questions might have sufficiently intrigued you to add this book to your TBR . . .Yes , I would recommend this book . . . I only wish that Elif had known when to stop writing . . .
If you have already read the book , tell me your thoughts about the book in the comments section below . . . Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .
Until the next review then . . .