Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review: Funny in Farsi, a Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America

“Funny in Farsi, A Memoir of Growing Iranian in America”, by Firoozeh Dumas, is a collection of unforgettable stories about the author and her family’s experiences as immigrants in the 1970’s.  Firoozeh Dumas was born in Iran, when she was 7 years old, she and her family moved to California.  This book spans years from her childhood to her early adulthood, the author writes about not understanding English, getting lost in Disneyland, her nose being teased, horrible experience of summer camp, traveling in different places….  The American life was pictured in the eyes of an immigrant girl. 
        Another main character in this book is the author’s engineer father, Kazem.  He spent his graduate years in America in the 1950’s.  To him, America is a place full of clean bathrooms and kind people.  This book recounts Kazem’s attempts to seek riches through bowling and in Los Vegas, and his adventures on all kinds of American foods.
        If the 27 stories of identity, discovery, and power of family love are 27 shiny pearls, the string that connects all of the stories, is the sense of humor in this book.  “What is charming beyond the humor of this memoir is that it remains affectionate even in the weakest, most tenuous moments for the culture.  It’s the brilliance of true sophistication at work. ” (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
        I think this memoir covers almost every diversity topic mentioned in our textbook.  However, the most notable ones are:  geography, language, and religion.
        The author feels sorry about the limited geographic knowledge of Americans, and is surprised at how this limitation has restrained people’s minds. When the author and her family first moved to California in 1972, most of the Americans they met didn’t even heard of Iran.  People had such a mistaken image of Iran, which often consisted of camels, tents and the Sahara, that they were disappointed at knowing Iranians actually had cars and electricity, just as in America.   Things got worse after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when the relation between Iran and the U.S. was on edge, Americans had bumper stickers that read “Iranians: Go Home” or “We Play Cowboys and Iranians”.  These Americans felt that they knew all about Iran and its people, and they had no questions, just opinions. 
        The author makes readers laugh about their experience of overcoming the language barrier in the chapter of “Hot Dogs and Wild Geese”, “moving to America was both exciting and frightening”, because they didn’t know English.   Her father was unable to understand spoken English and he himself was speaking a “private language” made up of thick Persian accent and pre- World War II vocabulary.  They searched for “elbow grease” in hardware shop to clean the floor; they referred the restroom as “Vater closet” and were guided to the drinking fountain; the author’s parents still don’t understand why teenagers want to be cool so they can be hot. 
        When religion for many people is a serious and heavy issue, the author’s father treats religion with hearty laugh.  As a Muslim, Kazem fell in love with ham, which is the forbidden food of Islam. He believed “it’s not what we eat or don’t eat that makes us good people; it’s how we treat one another….people of every religion think they’re the best, but that’s not true.  There are good and bad people in every religion.  Just because someone is Muslim, Jewish, or Christian doesn’t mean a thing.  You have to look and see what’s in their hearts.  That’s the only thing that matters, and that’s the only detail God cares about.”    The author believed this part is the soul of her book, in which I learned religions should function to unite people, other than divide them.
        The stories in this book could “easily translates to the experience of immigrants from any part of the world” (San Jose Mercury News).  The motto of the book, I believe, is to treat diversities and culture shocks as laughing matter.  If someone had been able to capsulate humor in pill form, the pills would undoubtedly put most prejudice and hatred out of business.

      Often kids tried to be funny by chanting, “I ran to I-ran, I ran to I-ran.” The correct pronunciation, I always informed them, is “Ee-rahn.” “I ran” is a sentence, I told them, as in “I ran away from my geography lesson.”                                                       ---P34
   …how sad it was that people so easily hate an entire population simply because of the actions of a few.  And what a waste it is to hate, he (my father) always said.  What a waste.                                                                                                                  ----P121
  [Father]I am a rich man in America, too.  I just don’t have a lot of money.