Publishing Details: Random House, June 2003
Back-of-the-Book Summary: Funny in Farsi offers readers an intimate look at the immigrant experience through the lens of an exceptional–and exceptionally funny–Iranian family. Author Firoozeh Dumas teases out the everyday uniqueness of life in the United States as she recounts her family’s experiences as transplants from oil-rich Abadan, Iran, to the epicenter of the American pursuit of the perfect tan: Newport Beach, California. With her wry take on everything from television commercials to Disneyland to mixed marriage, Dumas uncovers what makes America so unique and so utterly puzzling to those unacquainted with its larger-than-life customs. Her poignant descriptions of what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land will resonate with anyone who has ever experienced social alienation at any stage of life. In her unflinching examination into the essence of the Iranian immigrant experience, Dumas exposes America as it has never before been seen.
Funny in Farsi is another book I dug up from my parents’ house. As a collection of funny essays that combine to create a memoir, it’s one of my favorite types of books, and I liked the idea of reading a funny memoir that wasn’t written by a white woman, like so many of my favorite funny memoirs (shoutout to Yes Please by Amy Poehler!).
I am so white that I literally glow in the dark, so my critique, both positive and negative, is probably influenced by that. I try to be as aware of my whiteness as possible, but I know I’ll probably miss plenty of things, so I just wanted to give a warning.
What I Liked:
Funny in Farsi offers funny but genuine insights on immigration, womanhood, education, cultural disparities, cultural universalities, and domestic life as both a daughter and a wife and mother. Dumas manages to point out sexism, racism, colorism, classism, and other painful -isms in both American and Iranian culture without comparing the two, and she makes it feel natural.
As a white person, I’m used to reading books by people of color and feeling indignant and guilty if there’s major criticism of the life I lead, and I’m used to walking away, reflecting, adjusting my privileged worldview, and then enjoying the book and its many observations I never would have considered. I never really had to do that with Funny in Farsi, even though it doesn’t always present the prettiest picture of white Americans. As I read, it felt like Dumas’ varied experiences with American and Iranian cultures throughout her childhood combined to make her a keen observer of both, which allowed her critique and appreciate them both as well. As a reader, this felt balanced and honest and enjoyable to read.
Another thing Funny in Farsi did expertly was its depiction of family. Throughout the book, we get a loving portrait of a family that has its problems, but overall is warm and supportive. You don’t always get that from memoirs. Oftentimes the author’s family wasn’t warm and supportive, but sometimes the family just isn’t considered an important part of the story. That’s all fine and good, but I think there’s a lot of knowledge to be gained about a person by the way they think about their family. Dumas is acutely aware of the influence her family has had on her life, and she articulates it beautifully.
What I Disliked:
Although there were a lot of things I liked about Funny in Farsi, I have one major criticism: I didn’t actually find it that funny. It’s not that the book was too serious for the title, it’s that the humor consistently fell a bit flat. There are many moments throughout the book where I can tell Dumas is trying to make me laugh, but I simply didn’t. My favorite funny memoirs make me literally laugh out loud, but at best, Funny in Farsi only made me do that extra intense nose exhale thing we all do when we read something funny online. It was uncomfortable to repeatedly feel the author’s hand guiding me toward a reaction, especially since there often wasn’t enough oomph to actually get me there.
You Might Like This Book If…
- …you like funny memoirs
- …you want some great insights into American and Iranian cultures
- …you enjoy reading different immigration stories
- …you know America isn’t always so great and want a genuine take on the effect that has on real people