I had read a lot of incredible reviews about this book but I was cautious when I picked this up. I didn’t want to be disappointed. Rather, I was just blown away from one page to the next. I couldn’t rush this. You have to take it in word for word. Every word had its meaning, its significance, its place. Did you know that even after a person dies, the brain still works for the next ten minutes? So imagine a dying girl recalling bits and pieces of life while she is abandoned in a bin and left for dead? The story opens up brilliantly.
In the recent past and still ongoing, is the discourse on the violence women are subjected to. Every country, continent, society, and community is plagued with this menace. Tequila Leila, the protagonist is ostracized by her family and she moves to Istanbul and she is led to a brothel. This becomes her place of survival. In spite of the ugliness in a city so big, illustrious, and daunting, Leila survives and meets five friends with their own backgrounds, sordid pasts and loneliness.
I have never thought much of sex workers. Not that I disregarded them but they never were on my radar. Conversations about them were not talks I had often. It always sounded so distant for me. After reading Leye Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist and now, Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World, I became more aware of these very vulnerable women.
Sex workers should not be treated as scum or irrelevant. The total disregard for these women makes them the target for murderers and ritual killings, especially in Africa. Lelia in spite of her trade was a beautiful soul who had the capacity to connect with women who were also scarred, abandoned, and ostracized. The author showed us a woman who had the potential to be much more but growing up with patriarchal moulds, she was stifled and she fled.
I could not but reflect on the beautiful friendships formed in the book. Nostalgia Nolan, Zaynab122, Jameelah, Humgeya, Sabotage Sinan were people that Leila had become more than family to them. Their backgrounds and stories were far from happiness and love. Leila’s acceptance of them made them risk all to get her out of the lonely and depressing graveyard called “Cemetry of the Compainionless.” The irony. Leila was never companionless.
How can I forget the man who married Tequila Leila in spite of her background as a prostitute? D/Ali’s love for her transcended her background. It was accepting of who she was, it was accepting of her soul. To him, she was a woman that could be loved, and love her he did though, he faced the risk of abandonment from his immediate family.
Leila lived till her early forties but in that short time, five people could call her sister and friend. She was taking care of Jameelah who was ill. They had met in prison. She would not push Nostalgia Nolan to the curb because of the choices that she made. Truth is, everyone has the capacity to influence others positively. Life has to be deliberately lived and must be full of impact.
Friendships, strong moral values, love, freedom, tolerance, and acceptance are virtues we must cling to. They are the things that create that future that we desire. Our past may hurt like Leila’s past did (being ostracized from your family can be emotionally devastating) but we can decide to move on from it. We can choose to live and create the future that we want. Sometimes, in that future, we don’t get to the end. It gets cut by the evils in our world that we cannot control (Leila’s murder). But when it is over, others can have a better future just because we had chosen to live.