Funny in Farsi is one of those memoirs that is genuinely funny and sweet, and does not take us readers through some harrowing journey full of trials and tribulations. This book will not show you how resilient and strong a human being can be when moving and transitioning to a new life in a new country. Instead, this book shows us the power of family love and how new challenges can be overcome with a huge sense of humour.
Funny in Farsi is an an autobiography by Firoozeh Dumas who, along with her family (her parents and her elder brother Farid), left Iran in 1972. She was only seven years old at the time and so to arrive in Southern California was like another world for her. She takes us through the changes she and her family has to make in order to adjust in California. They all move in with her uncle, who has married an American woman. Her father is an oil engineer who had worked with an American firm in Iran and always had that American Dream of attending an American college. Her mother, on the other hand, is someone who is very proud of her cultural heritage and so isn’t all too keen to learn to speak English to adjust in the USA (she does eventually learn English!)
Firoozeh’s takes on a journey through her school years (struggling to help others pronounce her name correctly), to her understanding of the American culture (hot dogs!) right through her years at Berkeley University and her eventual marriage to Francois, a Frenchman. Her marriage to Francois sets her up for another cultural adjustment as she settles in with a French man in the US. I constantly had a smile on my face as I read through her mishaps, little faux pas and ultimately changing her name to Julie to make her life easier.
Along with her own journey, we also follow the lives of her parents and her brother and all what they go through. The one thing that holds them together is the strong family bond. As many immigrants have experienced when put in a new country with alien cultural practices, the family connect to each other on a whole new level. Firoozeh is blessed to have that sense of humour inherent in her nature to be able to adjust to a new life with that sense of humour.
There are a lot of similarities between the Iranian culture and the Pakistani culture, and I could relate to a lot of her life’s moments because I have seen that happening in my own culture. The family pressure for marriage, her ability to lie to her parents to keep things safe, her desire to live out the American life her white friends were living and many other things.
A lot of the cultural clashes felt very similar to me as I recalled my own experience of my university years in Texas in 1996. With much curiosity, I was also asked a lot of questions by other students and professors about my origins and my name.
Some of my closest friends in university were Iranians and we connected because of similar backgrounds and as we found later, some common words in our languages. I always remember my Iranian friends as the lively and jubilant ones- they always had a wicked sense of humour. This is also hugely evident in the book, and for a change it was actually wonderful to see this side of Iran as compared to the rather grim pictures we see in the media. As the writer says in the book, we are not always about politics and religion, there’s more to us.
Funny in Farsi is that rare autobiography that is charming and affectionate, and will show you how life can be handled with a sense of humour.