“Elias’ spiky, punky memoir takes us from her idyllic Syrian childhood to her plunge into sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and more drugs in New York City’s East Village.”
“More than a memoir, Elias’ tale –from Syria in the 1960s to New York in the 1980s – offers a street-level snapshot of some of history’s most critical time periods. Through her intimate storytelling, we get a glimpse into the highly personal struggles of addiction and the powerlessness of those caught in its grip.”
"Rayya Elias's life reads like Huck Finn on heroin. Her story of fleeing Syria as a child, growing up in Detroit and spending her young adulthood trolling around the East Village is as American as they come, including as it does immigration, addiction and hard won deliverance. Through it all Elias's voice burns fire hot and is completely engaging."
“Rayya’s writing doesn’t come out on the page feeling like it was squeezed from a standard-issue literary toothpaste tube. Instead, her stories are like tough little stray creatures, born in the lowest hollows of the dirtiest street corners, which then – as you watch, breath held – fight their way to rapture.”
“Rayya Elias's Harley Loco grabs you by the throat on the very first page, and then never stops shaking you even after you've closed the book. It's a punk song disguised as a memoir: raw, slashing, gritty, and shot through with all the wild confusion of youth. But it's also wise, unpredictable, and relentlessly affecting.”
You know you’re in for a memoir of dysfunction, depression, drugs, drink, and despair when Elias declares that as a child “being bad was what I did best.” By the time she was seven, she and her family had left Syria because of increasing political and religious tensions and moved to Detroit, because of its large Arabic community, to start a new life. Elias soon discovers that there will never be a better life, for her parents were more interested in using America for what they can get from it than in Americanizing. Bullied at school and failing to fit in at home or at school, Elias remains an outsider trying to find a way into a circle of friends and into this new world; soon enough, she has rejected so much that there is a void inside her, and she starts to fill that void with drugs, sex, and punk rock, hardening herself against the pain. In this compulsively page-turning memoir of her search for herself, Elias takes us on a tour of her hell as she moves from Detroit to New York’s Lower East Side; once in New York, she sells drugs, does drugs, discovers new and more powerful drugs, falls in and out of love, becomes an award-winning hair stylist, performs with punk when she can, goes to jail, and eventually hits bottom and goes straight. Haunting and mesmerizing, Elias’s story captures powerfully the vulnerability of being an outsider and the deep yearnings to be a part of something, to fit in. (Apr.)
Syrian-born Elias reports on four decades absorbed first in the punk movement on New York's Lower East Side and then as a drug addict who finally achieved redemption.
A junkie's-eye view of three decades of addiction in Detroit and on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. First-time author Elias, who has been clean since 1997, has enough distance to speak on her past unashamedly, with cleareyed intelligence and without judging her younger self too harshly. The youngest child of a prosperous Syrian family that immigrated to the suburbs of Detroit in the 1960s when she was 8, the author suggests her addictions were a response to the disruption that alienated her from her happy childhood in Syria. Her perspective remained that of the feisty little girl who fought back against bullies and earned the respect of her peers through a kind of reckless experimentation and a constant need to prove herself. "I always knew I couldn't be ‘the best of the best,' " she writes. "I think at a very young age I decided to become ‘the best of the worst,' which seemed to attract even more attention." Rather than take the path toward bourgeois security taken by her older siblings, Elias started a post-punk band, earning a living as a hairdresser. In New York, her dual careers seemed ready to take off, but her personal life was more complicated. While living unhappily with an adoring boyfriend, she fell deeply in love with a married woman who declined to leave her husband. Elias self-medicated with ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and Valium--anything to ease the pain--and soon found herself helplessly addicted. When snorting heroin became too expensive, a punk-scene friend reluctantly introduced her to mainlining. Thus began a descent into street life, homelessness, petty crime and jail time, alternating with temporary spans of redemption and health followed by heart-breaking relapse. Though slow to get going, the second half of this memoir is strong stuff, with some truly amazing stories well-told.