The Week in Books 2010, No. 11

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America is a humorous series of 27 short vignettes from the author’s childhood and early adulthood in Iran and the US.  The author, Firoozeh Dumas, does a skillful job of pointing out the humorous aspects of being an immigrant and not knowing what’s going on, while avoiding being disrespectful of her parents or other relatives.  She is laughing with them, not at them.  Similarly I never felt that she was skewering the US culture in general, which must also be a fine line to walk when you’ve been picked on for being different.  Overall the book is pleasant and interesting.

However, because the book was written mostly with humor and lightheartedness, I have to admit that I was taken aback and disappointed by Dumas’s treatment of her mother-in-law in the book.  Dumas makes clear that her mother-in-law was rude and didn’t approve of Dumas, and it might be that the mother-in-law was downright evil and horrifically malicious in every way, but it seemed short-sighted and bitter to include a mean treatment of the mother-in-law in a book.  The sections about her read like the kind of email she might have sent in a late night fury to one of her best friends, not like something she thought through before publishing.  At the time, the family was estranged, but it seems like Dumas might have thought there would be a possibility of reconciliation, or that her daughters might have liked to meet their grandmother and not be embarrassed later.  It seems the family is reconciled now, but that Dumas and her in-laws do not discuss the book.  This leads me to believe that either the in-laws actually haven’t read it and (in spite of it being a bestseller) the in-laws friends and relatives haven’t read it either, or that the mother-in-law is actually incredibly gracious.  I know if my daughter-in-law ever wrote such things about me I would have a very difficult time dealing with it.  In any case, the mother-in-law sections made me uncomfortable and embarrassed for the whole family.

Although those parts unfortunately cast a pall over the rest of the book for me, overall Funny in Farsi is a good quick easy read.  If you’re interested in what it’s like to be a foreign person living in America, or in Iranian culture, or just enjoy reading memoir, you’d probably enjoy this book.

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