10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World – one woman’s story

Mirza Waheed in The Guardian:

It’s a source of great irony and outrage that the Turkish authorities have decided to investigate Elif Shafak for writing about sexual violence just as her latest novel, a profound, humanising narrative about the victims of sexual violence, is being published in Turkey and elsewhere. It starts with an explosive premise, as we dive into the mind of sex worker “Tequila Leila”, who is dying in a rubbish bin on the outskirts of Istanbul. As her brain begins to shut down, Leila, assuming the roles of digressive raconteur and her own biographer, goes back in time to trace the story of the little girl from the provinces who ends up as a two-column crime story in the city’s newspapers. She recalled things she did not even know she was capable of remembering, things she had believed to be lost for ever. Time became fluid, a free flow of recollections seeping into one another, the past and the present inseparable.

Thus begins an extraordinary tale of a brutalised, broken but profoundly courageous woman who retains her humanity despite a world bent on crushing her at every turn. We see beautifully rendered, tender vignettes of her early life, as she remembers her birth and childhood in the house of well-to-do tailor Haroun, who has been waiting a long time for offspring from his two wives. As a free-spirited girl, Leila soon discovers that almost everythingin life is either forbidden to her or predetermined by age‑old familial codes.

Early in the novel, having captured the minutiae of domestic and social life in the eastern province of Van, Shafak recounts a hair-raising scene when Leila is six, during a family picnic at a beachside hotel. It’s this harrowing incident, almost unbearable to witness, that turns out to be the pivot around which young Leila’s life turns. We are then hurled into the brutal realities of life in the capital. “Istanbul was an illusion. A magician’s trick gone wrong.”

More here.

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