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25 Local Warehouse Biography- General

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America

by

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America Cover

 

 

Author Q & A

A Conversation Between Khaled

Hosseini and Firoozeh Dumas

I first met Khaled at a fundraiser for the Berkeley public libraries

in January 2004. Both of our books had been published fairly recently,

but I had not yet read The Kite Runner. I did, however, remember

his name. From the first time I had seen the name

“Khaled Hosseini” in print, I knew that he was from my part of

the world. I was rooting for him without ever having read a word.

Of course, once I read his book, I became an even bigger fan.

Soon after our first meeting, we decided to meet for dinner

with his wife, Roya, and my husband, François. It wasn’t easy selecting

a restaurant. Where do two Afghanis, one Iranian, and a

Frenchman go for dinner? I suggested sushi. We ended up going

to an Afghani restaurant, appropriately named Kabul. We have

been friends since.

Khaled Hosseini: Why did you use humor to write your memoir?

Firoozeh Dumas: I never intended to write a funny book. It just

came out that way. Before I started Funny in Farsi, I asked my

husband one day if I had ever told him the story about the first

time I went to summer camp. He said no. In fact, I had told no

one. So I told him the story and he was laughing so hard that he

was crying. I kept saying, “This is not a funny story. This is a sad

story.” And he kept shaking his head and saying, “This is the

funniest story I’ve ever heard.” And that’s when I realized that

sometimes, if you give something thirty years and if no one was

hurt, some of life’s less shining moments can be quite funny.

KH: You're very funny in person, Firoozeh. Fess up. Have you always

been funny?

FD: My father is the absolute funniest person I have ever

known. I never felt that I was funny, because compared to him

few people are. People have always said to me, “Oh, you’re so funny,” but it

never really registered. If people compliment you on your feet, it

doesn’t make you think you are going to grow up to be a foot

model. I consider myself an accidental humorist. When I was in labor

with my first child, I had days and days of contractions, followed

by hours of childbirth, followed by an emergency C-section. At

the end of what felt like an eternity, the doctor asked me if I

wanted to see the placenta. Truth was, I didn’t, but I felt like I

should want to, so I said, “No, thank you. I just saw one on public

television.” The doctors and nurses all started laughing, but I was

just trying to be polite. The last thing on my mind was being

funny.

KH: Is Funny in Farsi available in Iran? If so, do you know what

the reaction has been?

FD: Iran does not adhere to the international copyright laws,

which means that any book can be translated without permission.

The author has no control over the quality of the book. I

did not want a bad translation of Funny in Farsi, because in writing

my stories I was very careful about being funny without being

insulting, and I was afraid that a bad translation would just be

horribly embarrassing for my family. So I found my own translator

in Iran. Once he finished the translation, he sent the manuscript

to the censor’s office, since no book can be published in

Iran without government permission. Six months later, we got it

back. (We were lucky. The translator of James Joyce’s Ulysses

handed in the manuscript seventeen years ago and is still waiting!)

I had to remove a couple of small parts and the entire chapter

“The Ham Amendment.” I consider that chapter the soul of

the book, so having to remove it was painful. That’s life under an

Islamic theocracy. The book has not yet reached the bookstores,

so I have no idea how people will react. If Funny in Farsi is actually

funny in Farsi, it will bring some levity to its readers in Iran,

and I have the feeling they could use some levity right now.

KH: Since you are writing about real people, do you worry about

the reaction of the people you have mentioned in your book?

Not all the stories are flattering. How have you dealt with the inevitable

“how could you say that about me” questions?

FD: Everybody who is in the book gave his blessing, except for

my husband’s family. We have since reunited with them, but we

have never, ever discussed the book. That’s one subject I will not

be bringing up. Definitely not enough Mylanta in the world for

that conversation. I have had a lot of complaints from relatives who are not in

the book. They assumed it was because they are not important to

me. And in true Middle Eastern fashion, they did not complain

to me but to my parents. The truth is that if I wrote about all my

relatives, it would be a fourteen-volume set.

KH: What has been the reaction of the Iranian community in

America to Funny in Farsi?

FD: They love it. They keep thanking me for showing another

side of the Iranian people to the world. Most Westerners think

Middle Easterners just discuss politics and religion all day. We’re

actually quite fun.

KH: As a mother of two, when do you find the time to write?

Where do you write? Do you have any writing rituals?

FD: I write in spurts. When I’m writing, I get up at 4:00 a.m.

without using an alarm clock. Once a story is in my head, I’m

possessed, and the only thing I can do is write like mad. This

means the house gets very messy and dinner is something frozen.

I do not read or go to the movies when I am writing, because I

can’t concentrate on anything else. I also keep writing in my

head when I’m not actually writing, which means that I become

a terrible listener. It’s really a challenge trying to be a writer and

a decent mom and wife. I’m just grateful to have an understanding

family. Up until a few months ago, we lived in an 850-square-foot

house, with one table that served all our needs. It was also my

writing spot. I would just put my laptop there and type away

until my kids got up.

I once saw a book about writers and their special writing spots.

There were photos of spectacular cottages on lakes and woodpaneled

rooms filled with travel mementos. I just always tried to

make sure that the table was clean before I put down my laptop. I

found out the hard way that glitter left over from my daughter’s

art projects really sticks to computers.

KH: I loved the story about the “F word.” Do you have a favorite

story?

FD: Every time I finished a story, I swore it was my favorite.

Many of the stories still make me laugh out loud even though I

have read them a hundred times. I still can’t read “Girls Just

Wanna Have Funds” without crying at the end.

KH: How has your life changed since the publication of Funny

in Farsi?

FD: Because of Funny in Farsi, I have traveled throughout the

United States and met thousands of people. I have spoken in

churches, Jewish temples, Islamic centers, and schools. I have

always believed that there are far more good people in this

world than bad ones and that most people want to be reminded

of our shared humanity rather than our differences. Since the

publication of Funny in Farsi, my theory has been thoroughly

proven. And Khaled, don’t get jealous, but I get the best emails. Because

many schools throughout the United States are now using

Funny in Farsi in the classroom, I get a lot of emails from twelveto

eighteen-year-olds, and they say things like, “You are the best

writer ever!” I write them back and I say, “You are so astute!”

Even though Funny in Farsi is my story, it’s essentially a universal

tale of being an outsider. If you’ve gone through adolescence,

you’ve been there. I get e-mails from teachers all the time telling

me that even their students who normally do not read loved

reading Funny in Farsi. That makes my day every time. Adult

readers tend to invite me to their home. I get a lot of “If you are

ever in the Saint Louis area, our spare bedroom is yours!” It’s

very, very sweet.

KH: What are you working on now?

FD: I just wrote a piece for the New York Times humor section,

and I’ve been editing a book for UC Berkeley’s International

House about the effects of September 11 on ten individuals.

Truth is, I am itching to write my next book but I am currently

traveling full time. I have a bunch of stories in my head, so I am

just waiting for a lull in my schedule so I can put them down on

paper.

KH: You remembered so many details from your childhood. Did

you keep a diary growing up, or could you simply tap into your

own memories for this book, as I did in my own?

FD: I was always that quiet kid in a room full of adults that

everyone forgot about. I have always listened and observed, so

when I started writing, details just flooded back to me. And

every time I finished a story, another popped up in its place. It

was like using a vending machine: the candy falls down and is

immediately replaced by another.

KH: On the surface, at least, there is very little about politics in

FD: One of the biggest problems I have faced as an Iranian in

America is that no one knows much about Iran except what is

on the evening news. Politics has grossly overshadowed humanity

in the Middle East and I wanted to write a book that would

shine the light on humanity. When I speak at schools, I often ask

the students what they think of when they hear the words “Middle

East,” and they all say “war” or “terrorism.” That’s like someone

saying that when they hear “America,” they think of the Ku

Klux Klan. So I always make sure that when I’m visiting schools,

I sing “Happy Birthday” in Persian and I remind them that our

commonalities far outweigh our differences. They get it.

KH: “Are you Afghan or American or a hyphenated person?” I

ask you this question because I get it all the time. So, do you

think of yourself as Iranian or American?

FD: There are parts of me that are Iranian and parts of me that

are American. I can’t cook for just four people; I’m always thinking,

“What if someone drops by?” And when I married my husband,

I told him that when my parents get old they will move in

with us. That’s my Iranian side. If I receive good service somewhere, I always write the management and tell them, and if I receive bad service, I let them know

too. That’s my American side. And I vote in every election. That’s

my American side combined with the fear of facing my father.

KH: Are you—and if so how—trying to instill your Iranian culture

in your kids? How about French culture?

FD: Of course, it’s very important for me to have children who

are familiar with their heritage. But more important, I wanted

my children to be citizens of the world. That’s easy for us since

we live in the Bay Area and have friends from all over. We have

always discussed other countries and religions, and my children

have no fear of people who are different than they are. They

think it’s normal to have a dinner party with half a dozen different

accents. They also grew up thinking that dim sum, pad thai,

and chicken tandoori are as ordinary to other kids as pizza or

chicken strips.

I always spoke Persian to my children when they were little.

Unfortunately, I do not have family near me, so once my children

started school they insisted on speaking English. I didn’t really

fight because there are enough battles between parents and children

and you have to choose them carefully. I hope someday

they can spend some time in Iran so they can once again learn

Persian.

My children love Persian food. Who doesn’t? And they are

crazy about my extended family. When they were little, family

gatherings scared them. All that cheek pinching and enthusiastic

kissing was too much for them, but they have come to see beyond

that and appreciate how much my family loves them.

As far as their French side, my husband has instilled a love of

all things French, ranging from food, even escargots (!), to

movies to songs. We have traveled several times to France and

plan to go there more often now that we have reconciled with

his family. My husband’s lucky because he can go back his hometown

and not much has changed. Abadan no longer exists as

I know it, because it was heavily bombed during the Iran-Iraq

war.

KH: Any funny book-tour stories?

FD: Every author has an event that goes terribly wrong. I was invited

as a keynote speaker to an event where I was told there

would be five thousand junior high kids. This was a non profit organization

with no budget, so I bought my own plane ticket,

thinking that the high volume book sales would more than make

up for my expense. Once I got there, I found out that they had allotted

five minutes for my speech and that instead of five thousand

kids, five hundred showed up. I had arranged with a

bookseller to bring six hundred books. This bookseller had also

sent four employees.

When I went to speak, we realized the microphone did not

work. They just said, “Speak loudly.” It was an outdoor event.

I spent the day sitting behind a stack of six hundred books.

People kept walking toward us enthusiastically; then we realized

we were seated in front of the booth that sold funnel cakes. We

sold two copies of Funny in Farsi. I treated the four book sellers to

dinner and apologized profusely. And I helped them put the 598

copies of Funny in Farsi back in the boxes.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

dutchessabroad, June 3, 2008 (view all comments by dutchessabroad)
The stories by Firoozeh Dumas are beside funny also informative and enlightening. At a reading in Seattle she made the audience intermittently laugh and sigh. Dumas is a flawless writer and could be a stand-up comedian. Beyond being funny she's an ambassador to the Iranian People that Americans don't know exist, thanks or due to the news.
When we take in “the News” we tend to forget the information we’re made privy of is not about the people in a land of question, the News is what makes headlines.

It’s the inside stories of everyday people like you and me, and our neighbors that make up the fabric of the People, where ever they may make their homes, where ever they are from.

Firoozeh Dumas brings it (or them) home!

Oh, and by the way, as Dumas points out in her book, the title Funny in '"Farci" is (beside alliteration) a pun, it's like saying Funny in Espagnol, or Funny in Français.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(5 of 11 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780812968378
Author:
Dumas, Firoozeh
Publisher:
Random House Trade
Author:
Various
Subject:
General
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Ethnic Cultures - General
Subject:
Immigrants
Subject:
United states
Subject:
Family
Subject:
Immigrants -- United States.
Subject:
Iranian Americans.
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Biography-Ethnic Cultures
Subject:
Biography - General
Subject:
memoir;iran;humor;non-fiction;biography;california;autobiography;immigrants;immigration;culture;iranian americans;family;iranian;fiction;language;1970s;women
Subject:
immigrant memoir;1970s;southern california;american culture;personal memoir;iranian american;womens memoir
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20040131
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
7.98x5.18x.53 in. .40 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Women
History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » General
History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » Middle Eastern American

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America Used Trade Paper
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Product details 240 pages Random House Trade - English 9780812968378 Reviews:
"Review" by , "What's charming beyond the humor of this memoir is that it remains affectionate even in the weakest, most tenuous moments for the culture. It's the brilliance of true sophistication at work."
"Review" by , "Often hilarious, always interesting . . . Like the movie 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' this book describes with humor the intersection and overlapping of two cultures."
"Review" by , "Heartfelt and hilarious — in any language."
"Review" by , "A humorous and introspective chronicle of a life filled with love — of family, country, and heritage."
"Review" by , "Today, as Middle Easterners in the United States are subject to racial profiling, stereotyping, and sometimes violence, this book provides a valuable glimpse into the immigrant experiences of one very entertaining family."
"Review" by , "Dumas has a unique perspective on American culture, and she effortlessly balances the comedy of her family's misadventures with the more serious prejudices they face."
"Review" by , "The best parts will make readers laugh out loud....Despite unevenness, Dumas's first book remains a warm, witty and sometimes poignant look at cross-cultural misunderstanding and family life."
"Review" by , "At all times, no matter how heavy the subject matter, Dumas keeps her tone light....Warm and engaging, despite some creaky prose."
"Synopsis" by , This new Readers Circle edition includes a reading group guide and a conversation between Firoozeh Dumas and Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner.”

In 1972, when she was seven, Firoozeh Dumas and her family moved from Iran to Southern California, arriving with no firsthand knowledge of this country beyond her fathers glowing memories of his graduate school years here. More family soon followed, and the clan has been here ever since.

Funny in Farsi chronicles the American journey of Dumass wonderfully engaging family: her engineer father, a sweetly quixotic dreamer who first sought riches on Bowling for Dollars and in Las Vegas, and later lost his job during the Iranian revolution; her elegant mother, who never fully mastered English (nor cared to); her uncle, who combated the effects of American fast food with an army of miraculous American weight-loss gadgets; and Firoozeh herself, who as a girl changed her name to Julie, and who encountered a second wave of culture shock when she met and married a Frenchman, becoming part of a one-couple melting pot.

In a series of deftly drawn scenes, we watch the family grapple with American English (hot dogs and hush puppies?—a complete mystery), American traditions (Thanksgiving turkey?—an even greater mystery, since it tastes like nothing), and American culture (Firoozehs parents laugh uproariously at Bob Hope on television, although they dont get the jokes even when she translates them into Farsi).

Above all, this is an unforgettable story of identity, discovery, and the power of family love. It is a book that will leave us all laughing—without an accent.

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