Firoozeh Dumas. 2003. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. New York: Random House.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
As a graduate student at Michigan State University, I quickly learned several things about Iranian women. They distinguished themselves as the most intelligent and fashionable women on campus. What’s more, they generally could cook and managed money well. When I found one from Ahwaz willing to laugh at my jokes, I knew that I had found the woman of my dreams.
In her memoir, Funny in Farsi, Firoozeh Dumas gives us an inside picture of the life of an Iranian immigrant. Dumas writes:
“To him [her father, Kazem], America was a place where anyone, no matter how humble his background, could become an important person. It was a kind and orderly nation full of clean bathrooms, a land where traffic laws were obeyed and where whales jumped through hoops. It was the promised land. For me, it was where I could buy more outfits for Barbie.” (3-4).
Dumas can’t help herself, every sentence in her book includes a twist! In the cited paragraph, she juxtaposes her father’s expression of the American dream (a classic Horatio Alger rages-to-riches story) with a child’s rendering of the dream—a place where a Barbie outfits can be easily and cheaply acquired. Dumas is not your typical FOB (fresh off the boat) Iranian because she clearly knows what an Horatio Alger story is—her twists reveal a highly sophisticated humor palette.
As someone who has vicariously enjoyed the Iranian-American experience, this book had me repeatedly laughing out loud. Dumas writes of her future husband:
“François was of normal weight—although he did outweigh me, which fulfilled one of my two requirements for dating a guy. The other requirement was a total lack of interest in watching sports on television.” (143)
At one point, I met both conditions and on weekends I have repeatedly heard my wife, Maryam, muttering a little breath prayer—“Thank you, Lord, that Stephen does not watch football.”
When it comes to sports, Dumas writes about a new Olympic category:
“If worrying were an Olympic sport, my parent’s faces would have graced the Wheaties box a long time ago.” (155)
I don’t know how many trips to the doctor’s office that implies, but in our house my mother-in-law could easily have qualified for a volume discount.
Firoozeh Dumas’ Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America is a delightful read chronicling her experience growing up in Southern California having immigrated with her family from Iran at the age of seven. While a lighthearted memoir, its inviting picture of Iranian culture comes at a time of continuing political dramas between the U.S. and Iran over issues far removed from daily life, a point quietly underscored in a blurb written by former President Jimmy Carter. Anyone interested in the Iran-American experience will find this memoir fascinating.
 “A humorous and introspective chronicle of a life filled with love—of family, country, and heritage.” Jimmy Carter. The Carter endorsement is particularly poignant because his presidency was forever changed by the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81 and a failed hostage rescue attempt (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_hostage_crisis).
Firoozeh: FOBs from the Far Side
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