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Book Review: Try Me by Farah Damji

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The aphorist Christopher Spranger wrote: “The author who possesses not only ideas of his own but eloquence with which to clothe and adorn them cannot avoid cutting an impudent figure in this world.” Spranger might have been describing Farah Damji when he wrote those words. For she is such an author, creative, eloquent, and most definitely impudent. And it’s the impudence that makes her memoir Try Me so delightful to read.

Farah Damji is an Indian woman born in Uganda. She grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth. When she was 18 years old, she left London and went to New York, where she ran with the rich and famous. The fast crowd. The Beautiful People. Farah became a notorious reality. Drugs, sex, alcohol, more sex and haute couture pretty much sums it up. Later, for reasons equally irrational – sheer boredom being one of them – she became a dilettante criminal. After a number of stints in prison, she decided to write the story of her life.

And oh! What life she led. The kind of life only a very few women have lived. Women like Cleopatra of Egypt, the Queen of Sheba, Theodora, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. Women who had style, imagination, elan and a lust for life.

Farah Damji tells her story with equal parts of amused indifference, flippant disdain, and somber intensity. Yet whatever her mood, she’s always right on the money. For example, “Later the London bad boys, the downtown city-slickers in their handmade Oswald Boateng suites with flashy silk linings came to roost. These were my favourite boys, they were like proud peacocks in mating season. If I had been born a man I would have been just like them.”

Or, as she leaves the luxury apartment of one of her lovers: “There was no last look back at the building. It had been a lovely evening, he was a nice guy. Nice was never enough.”

What makes Try Me a social voyeur’s delight is all the celebrities Farah knew and came into contact with while running her art gallery in Manhattan. Celebrities like Peter Beard, Lee Radziwill, and Bianca Jagger. Farah describes each of these somebodies with intoxicating candor. Needless to say, this candor adds a lot of snap, crackle, pop to the story.

The art gallery was a money pit, swallowing up massive amounts of cash while clamoring for more, more, more. Desperate for funds, Farah succumbed to dubious solutions. The legal system referred to such solutions as grand larceny, forgery, and altering official records. And Farah found herself sitting in a prison cell on Rikers Island for six months.

Ten years later, back in London, where she was the publisher and editor of a “lifestyle magazine,” Farah was charged with grand theft and perverting the course of justice. Further fraud charges followed.

Farah’s life had spiraled out of control. Crash-and-burn mode. And as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious Farah is not a hardcore criminal. Rather, she is attempting to self-destruct because she doesn’t like herself. Which is, of course, ironic. For she’s a very likeable person. The true colors of her soul shine forth in her choice of words, her sentence structure, and the flow pattern of her thoughts.

In a sense, Try Me is reminiscent of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, wherein Solomon details his frantic search for happiness. Solomon tried everything. Sex, knowledge, architecture – all of which failed to make him happy. Farah did the same thing, only in a much more contemporary setting. She, too, came up empty. Yet like Solomon, after wading through the blizzard of her life, she discovered something worthwhile – her human-ness.

On the Read-O-Meter, which ranges from 1 star (dismal) to 5 stars (momentous), Try Me earns 5 stars. It’s a truly original memoir, written in dramatic fashion by the High Priestess of melodrama.

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