Saturday, April 23, 2016

Funny in Farsi

Funny in Farsi: Growing up Iranian in America
© 2003 Firoozeh "Julie" Dumas
240 pages




Imagine a time when most Americans had never heard of Iran, when a little girl from a village thereof might as well be from Podunk, Eurasia.   Such was the case of young Firooezeh, whose father was an Iranian petroleum engineer sent to work in the United States for two years.  With little to prepare them, her family took English lessons from The Price is Right and went off to explore America.  Funny in Farsi is a collection of Firoozech’s comic coming of age in the United States, combining both the awkwardness of the immigrant experience and fond recollections of her childhood in Iran.

Though after the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis, Iran would take on a sinister charge in the American imagination,  Funny in Farsi isn’t written as a somber reflection on Iranians and the Revolution; virtually all of reminiscences here are written to draw a smile.  They accomplish it regardless of the setting, whether they’re about her uncle taking her halfway across Iran to find his favored brand of ham, or Firooezeh enduring her American classmate’s dearth of geographic knowledge. (“You know China? Iran is on the same continent.”)  Comments on the immigrant experience (why are Americans so enamored of the French? Iranians also eat snails! It’s not fair!) go back and forth with family tales, like her father’s  many attempts to teach her to swim, or  his immense pride in spending as little as possible, as when he obtained lunch by visiting a grocery wholesaler and dining on the free samples.

While these recollections are delightful in their own right -- a reassurance that everyone's family has its odd ducks, regardless of continent -- there's also a useful reminder here that Iran is more than the possession of the reigning ayatollahs, being instead an ancient nation which has endured many a tyrant and will outlast the current breed as well.

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