# 372: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “Funny in Farsi”

Dumas, Firoozeh (2003). Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America.

Story behind the Book Choice

Not writing every day sucks. I have no idea how someone can ever say something like this, but I do. I miss it. I feel like I have moved away from my inner center again. I have completed much work in the past weeks and much of it was related to writing. Still, it was not the kind of writing that feels right. I have not been thinking much in this other kind of writing mode. Yes, the words were flowing on paper. But it is not the same to write grant proposals or reports. All these things are indeed important — fine. What is more important is my own writing. And I stopped doing this after the blogging challenge ended, at least during the week. All that is left is the Sunday book blog now. Fine. That feels compulsory, though, maybe even inauthentic. Yes, I keep reading a new book every week. And what else? The writing needs to happen when the thoughts come up. You cannot plan this…

The book choice today was my book choice for my class this semester. And it seems like the students enjoyed reading it. They called it “simple reading.” They liked that everyone can understand it. Indeed, the way in which Firoozeh is “simple” concerns her style. It is not so simple to be funny most of the time. But she manages to be funny — at least that is how the students saw it. I am not so sure about this. Somehow I expected it to be more funny. I guess, it is either my sense of humor that is different or I simply had too many expectations because of the title. Whatever it was that made me expect more “funniness,” I still enjoyed reading it — especially the following passages.

  1. Clean Bathrooms

One of the funniest things about the book is actually that the memoir is more about the author’s dad than about herself. As she states in one of the other passages, her dad is seemingly the funniest person she knows. Somehow, her own sense of humor unfolds through the prism of looking at his life as she observes it. And this one sentence about clean toilets in America really boils it down to the basics. And toilets are the basics about any country. I do remember how impressed I was about the clean toilets at the first U.S. airport that I got to see. Of course, now people will say, there are dirty toilets in the U.S. as well. True. But have you seen a public toilet in some other shithole country in the world?

I have.

And this is exactly the comparison which makes Firoozeh’s dad come up with this conclusion. In fact, I do think that we all remember these very basic things about countries. Most of the time, it is something about food. In other cases, it is about toilets. We humans are quite simple-minded when it comes to assessing what really characterizes a culture. And cleanliness certainly is one thing that not only Iranians like about the U.S. Of course, there is a satirical undertone to Firoozeh’s words here, especially when it comes to the “very, very kind” people. Well, there are always at least two perspectives of looking at anything, right? Even toilets and the super kind people who clean them can be observed from many different angles — some of them funny, some of them sarcastic, and some of them maybe even disgusting…

2. Las Vegas

Anybody who knows me knows that I love Las Vegas. It is my city, my second home. Destiny brought me there. It was the first city in the U.S. that I got to live in. And there is no place on earth that is so much like me. Yes, I seem to be referring anything and anybody to my own life. But Las Vegas is the ultimate allegory. It is a city full of extremes — of money and poverty, fun and tragedy, fiction and reality. I love this city and I will never ever lose touch with it in my heart and hopefully also not in my life. I will keep coming back there whenever I can and this is also why I can totally understand Firoozeh’s dad. Not only do I love the city. I love the drive. The desert scenery is all I need to feel calm and happy.

3. Every Story Counts

Somehow you have to decide where you stand in life, I guess. Do you love stories and value them? Or do you think they are just unnecessary nonsense? I have been alternating between the two extremes but not really. It was not me who doubted the value of stories. It was the side of me that listened to others. There is nothing more valuable than a story to learn from and there is no story more valuable than the story of one’s life. In fact, as I will write somewhere else, stories are the only things that will remain from us. They will survive when our bodies, our companies, the products we built have become rotten and disappeared already. Our stories will survive and I was very happy to read in this afterword that Firoozeh ends the book on this note. Memoir is not about achievement. It is about memorizing the legacy of every human being.

“This is because I truly believe that everyone has a story and everyone’s story counts.”

Reflection Questions

1) Do you think that books which have “funny” in their title can ever meet the expectations of the reader? Why/not?

2) What is the most striking characteristic of U.S. culture according to your perspective (even if you have never been there)?

3) Do you agree with the statement that “every story counts”? Why/not?



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