I love Firoozeh Dumas’s dry wit. I love her bold spirit. I love her courage to be self-deprecating and her defense of the Iranian culture conundrums. I admire how she embodies all that I experienced at 15 when I walked into an American high school, and all the days and years that followed until one day, I woke up and decided that I am finally proud, and no longer ashamed or embarrassed, to be an American from Iran.
Firoozeh Dumas is a sincere, candid and extremely funny author. If Firoozeh Dumas were not funny, I would cry the entire length of reading this book. With her humor, I managed to limit that to only select parts. Her sense of humor is tinged with sorrow and irony and light sarcasm. It takes strength to be able to laugh at your own troubles and difficulties, and it takes a great author to write about it in impartial language and to explain to her audience the mysterious gap between Iranian and American cultures and to have the creativity to add humor where I often found loneliness and anger in my own similar experiences.
American media stumps American intelligence. Sadly for Iranians, if it were not for the hostage situation of 1979, many Americans would continue to be ignorant of the existence of Iran. While Firoozeh Dumas accounts the early days of her life in 1972 when she would have to resort to creative explanations on what and where Iran is, she hardly had to do anything after 1979. Everyone had already formed an opinion of this obscure dot on the world map, thanks to the mad government of Iran and its usual stupid condemnable actions.
Alas, all Iranians everywhere have suffered the actions of those terrible few, as is generally the sad case of governments and their people.
What’s in a name? A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet. No? Not when you have an Iranian name outside Iran and refusing to take on a nickname for good reason. Firoozeh does not have to tell me how she suffered her name being unpronounceable and therefore, suddenly rendering her unapproachable in the eyes of teenagers her age.
Dreading her own name for the new misery it was causing in her life, she naturally decides to take on a pretty American nickname, just to fit in, you know. Thus Firoozeh becomes Julie and enjoys the benefits of having an American name, such as people remembering her name and inviting her to their homes. It was all fine until the Iranian revolution when tension set in and while her friends did not suspect her to be an Iranian – what with being called Julie and speaking flawless English – yet in the course of those months that followed, she felt like a fake every time one of her American friend referred to those “damn Iranians“, and so she decided to go back to being Firoozeh.
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Her patience with her American nickname lasted far more than mine did. While today there is not another name in the world that I worship more than my own name, there were days when I would have traded my right arm to be called Amy or Jennifer or any other commonplace name in the book. In high school, my history teacher one day took it upon himself to give me the nickname of Francis so that he would not be inconvenienced – or embarrassed, who knows – by having to pronounce Farnoosh. Who was I to disagree? In Iran, you learn to obey your professors and teachers unconditionally. In the silence of our classroom one day, when I had zoned out into my world for a few minutes, I realized that all eyes were on me and that the teacher had been calling out Francis for the last several minutes. I had not responded to a name that was not mine. My cheeks felt hot, my ankles started to sweat from embarrassment, and I knew in that moment that I will never again allow any one in this world to have the audacity to give me another name and expect me to respond to it.
That day, I fell in love with my own name and have managed to become successful in America, despite of it. It turns out my dad and brother’s predictions on how our name prevents our progress were slightly off the charts this time.
As all Iranians know, food plays a significant role in our life no matter where we live. Funny enough, good looks and appearances play just an important a role. Hence the never ending struggle between looking fabulous while eating all the gourmet delicious fattening meals in sight. Firoozeh’s family’s excursions around all variety of food, from their adaptations to the American fast food to the preparations of jambon and turkey, the hot dogs and wild geese, is thoroughly entertaining and some of the funniest parts of her memories. It is not half as entertaining as the trials and tribulations around weight loss. Firoozeh’s visiting uncle who had packed on a few pounds after one too many trips to the nearest fast food place was on a mission to lose the weight with the same vigor. His strategy to lose this weight following the latest infomercials on the subject is only matched by his staunch belief that they would work exactly as advertised.
This book is a remarkable tale of starting over, immigrating to America, holding on to family ties and traditions, and adapting to the land of opportunity and its people. It is a tale written with sophistication, creativity, humor and wit. A tale that Firoozeh Dumas writes about but many, many of us have lived and breathed since the first day we set foot in this beautiful country we now proudly call our home.