Monday, January 10, 2011

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas; A review

When I mentioned to my daughter the librarian that I needed something light to read after some of my recent reading, she recommended Firoozeh Dumas' Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. Ms. Dumas had attended a Houston Library event within the past year and my daughter just happened to have an autographed copy of the book that she would lend me. She guaranteed that it would make me laugh.

It did make me smile, chuckle, and once or twice even laugh out loud. It is a charming memoir of Ms. Dumas' family's coming to America a few years before the Iranian Revolution and the taking of the American hostages in Tehran. Her father, an engineer, was the family pioneer who had been to this country first as a college student on a Fulbright Scholarship. He loved the country and wanted to come back and eventually he did, bringing his family with him. They found a warm welcome, even though they learned that most Americans did not seem to know what or where Iran was and seemed to not have a clue as to how to pronounce the country's name. Honestly, what is so difficult about ear-rahn? One has to suspect that the mispronunciation is a deliberate insult. But perhaps it isn't. The ignorance of people can be truly astounding.

And that was one of the things about this book which didn't make me smile or chuckle at all. Again and again, the anecdotes that the writer tells reveal Americans' appalling ignorance about the world and their gross provincialism. This does not at all seem to be the aim or point of her stories which are always told with love and humor, but I couldn't help focusing on those aspects nevertheless. Perhaps my point of view was colored by my ongoing and growing concern about the poor quality of the education that so many American children receive. Living in Texas where our Board (or is that Bored?) of Education insists that all textbooks be put to a political litmus test has perhaps made me overly sensitive to this issue.

At any rate, the family came to America and were busily living the American dream when the Ayatollah's revolution came and changed everything. They went overnight from being honored guests to pariahs. Her father lost his job and the family endured some lean times before the hostage crisis ended and things began to return to a semblance of normal. Through it all, the patriarch of the family, who is really the larger-than-life main character in Ms. Dumas' essays, never lost his love of or belief in the United States as a concept and as a country.

This is a family of high achievers, like so many immigrant families, and nothing could keep them down for long. In the end, most of the extended family that had remained in Iran joined the author and her parents and brothers in this country, and judging by these warm and wonderful stories, our country is much the richer for their presence here.

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