The year before he was murdered, alongside two members of the rock band the Yellow Dogs, the Iranian-American singer-songwriter Ali Eskandarian wrote to the man he hoped would become his publisher. He was working on a novel about someone like himself, he explained – "immigrant, war child, rock'n'roller, artist trying to live in a modern world he finds infuriating/exhilarating". There was, he promised, "an insurgent political bent to the writing, also lots of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll". And there were "characters very similar to the Yellow Dogs" because he "lived with the Dogs for almost two years and we got to have some fun".
"I think it could be the great Iranian-American novel, or at least that's what I'll call it until someone proves me wrong," he finished.
The killings in New York last November of Eskandarian, 35, and brothers Arash and Soroush Farazmand echoed around the world. Ali Akbar Mahammadi Rafie, a fellow musician whose relationship with the band had "frayed", as the New York Times put it, climbed into their Brooklyn home and shot the men with an assault rifle, before killing himself.
The Yellow Dogs had fled from Tehran to New York in 2010, wanting to be able to play their music freely. In Iran, according to a US state department cable released by Wikileaks, they were part of Tehran's "small but crazy" underground club scene. In the US, they were "building a national following with [their] furiously intense post-punk", in the words of Rolling Stone.
Eskandarian, who lived in the flat above the brothers in East Williamsburg, grew up in Tehran before moving to Dallas with his family as an adolescent. He'd released an album, Nothing to Say, on Wildflower Records, and toured the US with the Yellow Dogs. He was also, it turns out, writing that semi-autobiographical novel, Golden Years.
It's just been bought by Faber & Faber, the most literary of the UK's publishers, where creative director Lee Brackstone believes it is a "cult classic in the making". "It's sort of Beat," Brackstone says. "Every five years or so it feels like a classic title comes out of this genre, and I think Golden Years is going to be the next one." Eskandarian writes, he says, about "the first 10 years of the 21st century, and living in Williamsburg, and going on the road in this band. It's about what it's like being a young immigrant from a minority nation, growing up, finding yourself, in cities in the US, going back to Tehran. It's very powerful; it's also extremely political. These kids in their early 20s are rebelling against what's going on in that part of the world. There'll be shockwaves from it."
In September 2012, Eskandarian emailed his manuscript to his friend Oscar van Gelderen at the Dutch publisher Lebowski. Van Gelderen was at first reluctant to read it. "I was afraid it would be bad," he says. Instead, "it's poetic, lyrical, authentic, fresh and brutal".
"It's not just a classic coming-of-age story," Van Gelderen goes on. "It's all here, the immigrant story, leaving everything behind … People ask me all the time to explain the killings. I'm not a psychologist. But if you leave your country, what do you have left? These guys had their friends, and their band. This guy [the killer] was sort of kicked out of their community. If you read the manuscript you can see how sensitive and fragile these people are."
When Van Gelderen told Eskandarian he wanted to publish the book, "he was so excited – he couldn't believe it." On the Facebook page he set up in the author's memory, Van Gelderen has written: "Let's keep on calling it Ali's Great Iranian Novel, until someone proves him wrong."
|Ali Eskandarian performing with the Yellow Dogs in San Francisco, February 2013. Photograph: Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic. Courtesy The Guardian.|
Did you pack the synthetic opiates? An extract from Golden Years by Ali Eskandarian.
We were once again going on a cross-country tour. Kiarsh, the drummer, is the newest member to make it out of Iran. He and I had one of those instant bonds that develop between people who are supposed to ride down the road a while together. He's tall and handsome, with deep, dark eyes. The girls go nuts for him.
We have to gather all the necessary supplies for the first leg of the tour. In our case the provisions consist mostly of drugs. Bottles of amphetamine, synthetic opiates, hydrocodone, and an ounce of marijuana, which all have to be procured before departure, and it's early afternoon before we point the van plus trailer towards the western shores.
Via The Guardian