Seven-year-old Firoozeh Dumas moved from Iran to America with her family in the 1970s. Her father, an oilfield engineer, had gone to school in the States, and her brother recently had moved in with relatives in Pennsylvania to do the same, but curious-and-precocious Firoozeh had nothing more to go on than her dad’s “when I was in college” memories of her new home. Imagine the overwhelming tasks of both learning a new country, with its intricate systems and processes, and explaining your home country, with its location virtually a mystery to most Americans (and its pronunciation the same). If it hadn’t have been for her driving sense of wonder and thriving sense of humor, even at such a young age, Firoozeh may have had a different story. Funny in Farsi owes its humor and pace to those very attributes.
But there is more to this memoir than just a small girl’s journey through the lighthearted attempts at understanding America, and even at understanding real political turmoil when she witnessed the riots surrounding the Iranian Shah’s visit in 1977 (I mean, have you seen Argo?); it is her strong characters who dance in and out of the pages that make readers laugh until the lines blur, leaving a familiarity that surpasses culture, time, and parchment. Though this dynamic of characters keeps the reading light, the author shares family insights that reach deeper than readers may realize. Firoozeh learns from her father that religion must evolve to make sense in a modern world. She learns too that good, and bad, people abide in every country, every church house, every family. These snatched gifts of universal truth that stayed with the author as a young girl will stay with readers as well, reminding subtly (often juxtaposed to scandalously grilled lobster or an 70’s metallic fat suit) that humans are bound together by shared experience.
Even without the current push for nonfiction, as a result of the Common Core State Standards, teachers would find this read an absolute treasure—a gift to students who do need to read more nonfiction but who also need read what interests them. The way in which Dumas crosses cultural boundaries and softly integrates the faith of her upbringing makes for excellent class discussion that, in this political climate, is necessary. Rooted in tolerance, acceptance, and bouts of excellent humor, Funny in Farsi should be on classroom shelves all over America.