Firoozeh Dumas’ memoir about growing up Iranian in California, Funny in Farsi, is a lighthearted look at her 1970s and 80s immigrant experience. Imagine moving to a country where you don’t speak the language, and everyone is geographically challenged with no idea of where your home country is located on the globe. While Dumas isn’t the only person to have such an experience, she makes her story unique with humor and pathos.
Her father figures as the largest character in the memoir, sometimes surpassing the author herself with his quirky attitudes and behaviors. Dumas’ dad thinks he’s going to win a million dollars, and he loves the adulation he gets from his family around the world. But he’s also supportive of his kids, his nieces and nephews, and seems like a genuinely warmhearted guy. Everybody has an uncle or a dad like this—maybe both, like I do!
Lately I’ve tried to read more books about the immigrant experience, since my family is many generations distant from ours. There are multitudes of experiences I’d like to understand more about, and reading is the best way to learn IMHO. Funny in Farsi isn’t a book that sets out to teach others. It isn’t heavy on conclusions or politics. Instead, Dumas let’s you draw those conclusions yourself as she shares her memories. Let me be clear, I’m not saying this approach is better or worse, it’s just different from a book like In the Country We Love: A Family Divided by Diane Guerrero. And that’s okay.
Dumas has a period in her teenage years where she decides to be called “Julie” because her Persian name is a constant challenge to people who don’t speak Persian. When I read this, I had to laugh because several of my husband’s family members have two names like this—one Anglo and one Japanese. In Dumas’ case it was fairly short lived, and part of her story is about the challenge of transitioning back to her Persian first name.
Lest you think the whole book is funny, know that Dumas also discusses the impact of the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis on her life. Everything changed for her family as these events unfolded. Their financial position, and especially the way their family was viewed here in America. Imagine watching the news for those hundreds of hostage days, and knowing this was happening in your country. Dumas tells this part of her story with an astute perspective.
Dumas has an easy writing style and an authentic voice. I’d absolutely pick up another of her books, especially another audiobook. Although she’s not a professional narrator, Dumas does a great job of telling her stories. And you can be sure she always pronounces her name correctly!