10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World boldly starts with a chapter entitled “The End” which opens with the death of the main protagonist. “Her name was Leila,” the novel begins, past tense, and already Leila, or Tequila Leila as she is known to her friends and clients, breathes no more, cliffhangers be damned.
In a collection of essays penned by Arab women reporting from the Arab world, one can expect destruction and bullets, bodies and despair to litter the pages. And rightfully so. Our Women On The Ground: Essays By Arab Women Reporting From The Arab World does not shy away from the front lines and splashes copious amounts of reality onto readers who dare to venture into its chapters.
The desire to get one’s name right can exceed the confines of a misspelt Starbucks cup. To Shakespeare’s Juliet, famed for asking her lovestruck question, “What’s in a name?”, Zahia Rahmani, the Franco-Algerian author of the novel “Muslim”, would respond: “Everything”. Call a rose by any other name, and it might doubt its own sweetness. The act of naming, or the denial of one’s name, can devastate one’s identity.
The first time I set foot in the war zone, a Ukrainian soldier chastely kissed my cheek before confiding he was excited to tell his mother that he had kissed a Frenchwoman. A few minutes later, just beside me, his fellow soldiers were perched on a tank, firing shots in the air to disperse residents who were opposed to their presence. The ringing from the shots caused me to lose hearing in one ear for a full 24 hours.
When Jeet Thayil writes a book about chocolate saints, one knows it will not be the kind populated with Easter eggs and Willy Wonkaian characters. Rather, think Umberto Eco acid-tripping on a couch punctured with cigarette burns in a moldy basement.