Book Review: Funny in Farsi
By: Firoozeh Dumas
Published By: Random House
Publication Date: January 2004
Page Count: 240
Audience: Adult - Memoir
If you enjoy fish-out-of-water stories with memorable characters, you will love Funny in Farsi. In the early 70s, Firoozeh and her family moved from Iran to the United States because of her father's job as a consultant to an American oil company. Filled with array of colorful memories of growing up and equally colorful family members, Dumas describes the formative and funny scenes of her early life with charm and wit.
In her early years, Firoozeh had to overcome not only the usual teasing that almost everyone receives that the hands of peers, she also had to find her place as both Iranian and American. Throughout grade school she struggled with other children either not knowing where Iran is, or only associating it with Persian cats. Later, after the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79, she had to deal with living in an America that had become hostile to everything Iranian.
As the book progresses, we learn more about each of Firoozeh's family members and the Iranian culture that unites them. I felt for her as she described watching all the other kids celebrate Christmas, or even Hanukkah. As Muslims, her family did not celebrate anything at that time of year, though there were plenty of celebrations and feasts at other times. She reveals insights about her ham-loving, engineer father, the way her aunts temp other family members to come visit with mentions of favorite foods, and her failed attempts to earn money as a child.
I adore this slim volume of funny family stories. As I read, I felt like I was able to see through her eyes both as a child and as an adult looking back on the experience. Dumas is never overly-sentimental, though it is clear that she has a deep and abiding love for her family and all its extended relations. Every story feels like gentle teasing, and Dumas spares no one, especially her younger self.
This is the perfect thought provoking, but also light and humorous read. Funny in Farsi is broken up into stories of about five to fifteen pages that a reader can easily finish in a sitting. My only regret with this book is that Dumas did not include an appendix with family recipes. The food she describes her aunts making sounded amazing.
In 1972, when she was seven, Firoozeh Dumas and her family moved from Iran to Southern California, arriving with no firsthand knowledge of this country beyond her father's glowing memories of his graduate school years here. More family soon followed, and the clan has been here ever since. Funny in Farsi chronicles the American journey of Dumas's wonderfully engaging family: her engineer father, a sweetly quixotic dreamer who first sought riches on Bowling for Dollars and in Las Vegas, and later lost his job during the Iranian revolution; her elegant mother, who never fully mastered English (nor cared to); her uncle, who combated the effects of American fast food with an army of miraculous American weight-loss gadgets; and Firoozeh herself, who as a girl changed her name to Julie, and who encountered a second wave of culture shock when she met and married a Frenchman, becoming part of a one-couple melting pot.