Laughing Without an Accent, by Firoozeh Dumas
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Firoozeh Dumas is an Iranian-American married to a Frenchman, and now a writer, speaker, and mom of three. A few years ago, I enjoyed reading her first book, Funny in Farsi, a collection of stories about moving to the U.S. as a child and viewing life through an immigrant family's eyes. Laughing Without an Accent is more focused on Dumas' recent years in the U.S.
Dumas shares stories about the difficulties of getting her first book translated into Persian (in Iran, the author has no quality control over translations of their work; her courtship with her husband, who she met in college; a Tina Fey moment, when she berated a woman for allowing her dog to poop in her front yard, only to find out later that she was her children's new school principal; the stories of mother guilt (not confined to Jewish mothers) and the difficulty of turning down a parental present, even if it's awful; her decision to get rid of her family's TV (and her son's ignorance about Toys 'R Us--not a bad thing!); a funny Christmas when her husband tried valiantly to please her parents with a gourmet Christmas meal; and her view of farmers markets as near-religious experiences.
I enjoyed reading about attending an office clearance sale with her resourceful-to-a-fault, thrifty dad, who insisted on buying a few enormous desks without regard to how they were going to get the desks home, much less into the house.
Some reviewers have criticized Dumas for lumping all Americans together. I say hogwash and they need to lighten up. She writes about the independent, outspoken Iranian women she knows who are hidden under hijab, contrasted with the over-the-top skimpy attire in American culture: "I wish to see the day when no woman is forced to wear a hijab, chador, or burqa, but let us not discount the women underneath those mandatory coverings. If empowerment were as simple as being able to show skin, Paris Hilton would be the most enlightened woman in the United States. Having freedom does not automatically mean we all make good choices. Freedom is a rope; some make a ladder out of it and climb out of the box they're put in; some make a noose; and others make a stripper's pole." Yes, she's opinionated about the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, but she's not saying all Americans are like them.
As an avid library lover, I adored the story about how Dumas grew up in a family without books and only got to visit the library when a teacher advised it (her parents always obeyed teachers!). She could not believe that she would be able to take out books for free, so she took her purse with her, ready to pay for the book. “Ever since we had arrived in the United States, my classmates kept asking me about magic carpets. They don't exist, I always said. I was wrong. Magic carpets do exist. But they are called library cards.”
At times she does contradict herself a bit, such as when she talks about how great Iranian schools are (were), yet how the first time she ever had a nurturing teacher was in the U.S. I would have liked to have read more about her relationship with her husband: how do they merge their French and Iranian cultures, traditions, and religions?
Most touching were stories about how tough it was to be an Iranian-American in 1979 during the hostage crisis, constantly hearing the "Bomb Iran" parody on the radio, and how recently she got to know Kathryn Koob, one of the female hostages. She ends with a story about how Koob took her all over her Iowa hometown, embracing her as a friend. And she ends with these thoughts, on the subject of reconcilation (one of my favorite topics):
"The bible is foreign to me, but its concepts are not. My father always said that hatred is a waste and never an option. He learned this growing up in Ahwaz, Iran, in a Muslim household. I have tried my best to pass the same message to my children, born and raised in the United States. Ultimately, it doesn't matter where we learn that lesson. It's just important that we do." Amen.