ARAB – An interview with author Parham Rahimzadeh
Parham Rahimzadeh was born in 1990 in the desert of Ahwaz, Iran, grew up in the concrete jungle of Schiedam and Rotterdam, and got in a lockdown in Amsterdam because of love. In his young life, he has been a baby-refugee, a student, an entrepreneur, and currently (still) works as a tax consultant. However, with ARAB, he turns out to be the masterful narrator of stories he always wanted to be.
1. Can you take us into the story of ARAB? Why do we need to read it?
ARAB shows the human side of someone you would love to despise. The story of a person growing up in hardship is an age-old one. And the story of ARAB is meant to challenge the reader, to step out of their bubble and comfort zone, and to enter a world unknown or a familiar world depending on the reader. It is more than just a book, ARAB is an experience.
The story of ARAB is about a boy called Bassam Abadi. The story follows him from age 15 to age 21. These are important years in a young man’s life that will challenge him to break or bend in a harsh environment. Because of the aforementioned environment, he turns to a criminal life, only to try to climb out of that life once he realizes that it is too late.
‘It is more than just a book, ARAB is an experience.’
‘It is more than just a book, ARAB is an experience.’
2. You and MENDO’s Gunifort Uwambaga have a special relationship and partnership in this project. Can you elaborate on that?
First of all, ARAB is a story about brown boys. How we are often overlooked in this society and our behavior and problems are just put aside as problematic, without anyone doing anything about it. In this case, the upbringing of Guni and mine is similar. Both refugees, both growing up in tough conditions and both keen on wanting a lot more in life. We both have had the sense of “Is this all there is?”, while growing up in our respective neighborhoods.
Having said that Guni and I became friends more than 10 years ago. We both went to Uni and then again asked ourselves the same question after getting our degrees “is this all there is?”, “Am I going to live this life that has been systematically laid down in front of me so predictable and somewhat sad?”. Speaking for myself I want to get the most out of this life. I want to enrich myself in all ways possible. This singular mind state drove us both to explore things outside the academic Master’s degrees we earned. This mindstate drove us both into the literary world. Guni as a publisher and I as a writer.
Guni saw the potential in me and partnered up with me in this project. And we made it happen, all the past experiences we had; both street and book-smart made it happen.
3. The story of ARAB gives an insight into the world & the lives of people who usually don’t like exposure. How did you deal with accounts that were ‘explosive’?
I am an honest person if I may say so myself. I am also honest with myself. I don’t get uncomfortable in these kinds of situations. I accept the feelings of others even if they are negative or angry. That’s just how life works. In the book, the relationship between the father of Bassam (head character) and Bassam has its ups and downs. In a way, it portrays the own relationship I have with my father. We also have our ups and downs. But I love my father and he loves me and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
But what I think I could expose with this story is WHY the relationship of father and son has its ups and downs. I think that’s a very important insight to have on bi-cultural Dutch citizens. Because the fathers usually cling to their culture from home to feel the connection to their homeland. And their sons and daughters don’t have that connection and that results in friction.
4. Have you thought of writing under a synonym?
Fuck yes, I wish I did it from the start *laughs out loud*. I want the attention to purely go to my stories. I don’t want to be framed a certain way by the media: “Bi-cultural Dutch guy writes a book about criminal life and poverty”. That shit is so played out but yet the media licks their fingers at the sight of it. It should be all about the object (the books and the stories) and not about the subject that is writing it. Hey, who knows, maybe ARAB is the last you will hear from Parham Rahimzadeh, if you get what I mean.
6. What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
My gratitude for giving me these experiences. My gratitude for even existing. In hindsight, I always have made stories in my head about everything and everyone I have ever seen, met, and befriended. The real people are the fuel for my ticking fingers on the keyboard.
‘Friction is just human. And without friction, we can never start the fires that light up our lives.’
5. What was your writing process like while making ARAB, and how did publishing your first book change your technique of writing?
I started writing because I wanted to put the day that I found out my mom had died to a rest. It started as a therapeutic experience and ended as a complete world of its own. I noticed that I had so much feeling that I could convert into fuel for my writing. It was like a giant weight was lifted from my shoulders. An answer to a problem I didn’t realize that I even had. But the writing kickstarted, when one of my best friends died approximately one month after I started writing ARAB. If I didn’t start writing then, I would’ve probably gone insane. I started writing every day for an hour or so.
It was liberating to be fully in control of a world that only I was controlling. And that’s the beauty of writing. After I finished my manuscript and I got signed to Prometheus my technique of writing became more layered and refined. Just like some rappers say that they aren’t rappers (while rapping and making a shitload of money doing it) I sometimes have the same feeling that I am not a writer. But I do write. I consider myself more of being a storyteller. In that sense, I also want to master the writing technique of writing scripts.
But in general, I want to keep writing the way I prefer, unbound by the rules of others. Because that for me is total freedom.
6. In the book, you sometimes take us into a different dimension, what is that about? And do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
I perceive life, death, and the phase of “before being born” as one whole. I believe we perceive time as linear because our human vessels are only limited to that. I think that there is way more to this concept of life than that we can fathom. Writing is very spiritual. It brings me closer to the concept of God.
In Farsi the word for God is Khoddah. Khod is roughly translated to “Yourself”. I believe the divine and God are inside us all. We are our own gods. Idolize yourself, don’t idolize others. Only in that way you can get closer to Khoddah and create! Writing is a form of creation and therefore writing is a form of being part of God itself for me.
7. The cover of the book is shot by Robin de Puy. What was the idea behind the art-work, and how was it working with Robin?
I fucking hate being in front of the camera. I am one of the most awkward people to photograph. But she is excellent at her craft and was able to create some amazing shots for the book.
With regards to the cover; I didn’t want to be visible on it. I wanted the reader to be able to still paint their personal picture when thinking about Bassam. And only photographing my eyes enables that in my opinion.
8. The book does not have a standard chapter layout. Instead, it has a Tracklist. Can you tell us more about that (concept)? And perhaps give two examples of songs from the book?
During writing, I am always heavily inspired by music. I get inspired by the feeling that a song can give you. I translate that inspiration into words. So I thought that for ARAB it would be fair enough if I didn’t have a traditional chapter layout, but instead used a tracklist. I also encourage the reader to listen to the songs before, during, or reading each chapter to get the full experience of what I want the reader to feel.
Lotgenoot by Winne gives me that feeling of brotherhood that I have with my closest friends. And Age Ye Rooz by Faramarz Aslani brings me back to the day my mom died.
‘It is a story about another going away and how it makes the other feel.’
9. Does your family support your career as a writer? And what kind of reactions have you been getting?
My family always supports me. You know how it is Guni. As an immigrant kid, you at least have to get your degrees and then you can become what the fuck you want.
I am getting positive reactions. I noticed on Twitter that some people were crying wolf because my book is critical of our Dutch society. But that is typical Dutch. You have the freedom to express yourself but only if it fits the agenda. They can’t have this Muslim bi-cultural guy talking shit about how the system is build up a certain way to make it very hard for people in low social-economic environments to get out of that.
I know that it can be confronting for some people tend to cling on to their cultures (or how they perceive culture) like I previously mentioned. So I understand if my ideas could be a treat to their version of “their culture”. Especially in the day and age of social media, we tend to only voice our opinions in echo chambers. I think we should open the dialogue more often.
10. What are your dreams/ideas/plans/ambitions for the future? And what does literary success look like to you?
I don’t want to narrow my scope only to writing novels. I also want to write scripts. I am currently developing a drama series with a close friend of mine Aramis Garcia Gonzalez. He has already made some short films. One of them is Pariba and also worked on the movie Bulado that is currently on Netflix.
Having said that I am busy writing 2 other novels at the moment. It is strange but I still don’t feel as a writer. I think I’ll consider myself to be a writer once I’ve written two or more books. 1 book seems accidental. 2 or more feels more structural. And that is what literary success partly means to me. Writing and publishing more books and just being able to give readers insights into other perspectives. That’s fair enough for me.
So next to my full-time job I am still writing, purely because it is also my hobby. And that is another part of what literary success means for me; for myself to just be happy. And that’s exactly the feeling that writing gives me; unpublished or published.
Bonus Question: So who do you want to shout out or plug? The floor is yours!
Oehh let me think, basically I would want to give a general shout out to everyone who helped me in the process of getting Arab published. And a special shout out to Arman for really diving deep with me in our long talks about what reality actually is and how this all actually works.
Oh and Jim Taihuttu, I really think this could be a movie! So let’s talk whenever you’d like.
About the book
At MENDO we have friends that have a way of drawing out inspiration. Parham Rahimzadeh: Arab – is a raw, moving debut, about a pre-university student who trades drugs to care for his depressed father. With Arab you crawl into the psyche of a boy who is surrounded by crime but wants to come out as an adult. Dutch language only. Cover image by Robin de Puy.
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