“Expect vibrant, vivid and eye-opening descriptions of Middle Eastern life propelled by a tender storyline, all in Shafak’s haunting, beautiful and considered prose.”


This story has the most unusual of narrators for the most part…a corpse.
The corpse is of Leila, known as Tequila Leila for most of her adult life spent in a house of ill repute, which is the other name given to brothels in the city of Istanbul.

For a total of 10 minutes and 38 seconds after she dies,Leila’s brain recalls memories of the life she led, her family, her friends, her troubles and how she met her death.

Born as the much awaited child to a very conservative father and a mother who is plagued by mental health issues, Leila nevertheless has a normal childhood up to a point.

Memories of being immersed in a salt bath by the midwife and of licking a spoonful of lemon and sugar paste being used by the ladies to wax their legs, are the first ones that come as her brain begins to shut down.

The birth of her much beloved brother and happy times playing games in the large house they all live in are overshadowed by the darkness that betrayal and the shame of being held responsible for it, bring into her young life.

Rebelling against her father’s increasingly strict rules lands her in trouble she doesn’t know how to deal with and changes the course of her life.
The silver lining is the friends she makes.. all five of them not conforming to what society deems normal.. All shunned by their families and everyone around them but determined to survive.
These friends are the only ones who continue to care about Leila even as she lies dead.
Laying bare the trouble with imposing too many restrictions and stifling individuals who are different, sometimes not even by choice, this is a call for acceptance of what is not necessarily the expected or the wanted in people, whether they are our family members or others.

Leila’s story might have continued to be happy if she had received the support she deserved instead of being held responsible for the terrible perversions of others. Who are human beings to decide which life is worth celebrating and who is deserving of scorn? Do we really know why people make the choices they do and what they feel when we condemn them because they don’t fit our image of what they should be like?

Bold and hard-hitting, questioning whether religious beliefs can justifiably take precedence over an individual’s freedom and what sin, shame and a host of other concepts really mean, this is a journey that must be undertaken.


Reviewed by:

Priya Prakash

Added 22nd May 2020

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Priya Prakash