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Book review: Harley Loco

Rayya Elias is the kind of person most people pray to have as a guest at their parties. This isn’t simply because she has obviously led the kind of life most of us can only dream about — unless you’re also gay, a former junkie, celebrity hairdresser and Punk Rock musician — but because she is such a gifted raconteur.

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This is the kind of memoir that ought not to appeal to a straight reviewer whose last risk-taking adventure involved getting into a Virar local at Dadar. That it does, and so powerfully, is testament to Elias’ ability to tap into something raw, or primal, that most of us seal away deep beneath lessons on how we must conform to rules laid down by our societies.

Harley Loco
Harley Loco, Rayya Elias, Blooms-bury, Rs 399. Available at leading bookstores.

Harley Loco begins in the midst of things in New York City, with a desperate girl, a dangerous man, and a gun. From that moment on, we are plunged into Elias’ early years in Syria, given a ringside view into her family’s escape (for religious reasons) to America, shown just how cruel children can be to other children and, eventually, brought up to speed on why Elias turns into the kind of girl most parents would have nightmares about.

It isn’t always dark. There are silver linings and unexpected successes, which is what lifts this memoir from being just another cautionary tale of drug addiction. In fact, Elias is never apologetic about her life choices. She embraces them, even revels in what they have made her. What Harley Loco gives us is a glimpse into a wayward life lived in parts of the world most of us may never visit. What it also teaches us, however, is that one can find hope in the darkest places. It’s what makes this unusual woman’s chaotic, colourful story a life-affirming one.

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