In the best-selling memoir
Funny in Farsi, Firoozeh Dumas recounted her adventures growing up Iranian American in Southern California. Now she again mines her rich Persian heritage in
Laughing Without an Accent, sharing stories both tender and humorous on being a citizen of the world, on her well-meaning family, and on amusing cultural conundrums, all told with insights into the universality of the human condition. (Hint: It may have to do with brushing and flossing daily.)
With dry wit and a bold spirit, Dumas puts her own unique mark on the themes of family, community, and tradition. She braves the uncommon palate of her French-born husband and learns the nuances of having her book translated for Persian audiences. (The censors edit out all references to ham.) And along the way, she reconciles her beloved Iranian customs with her Western ideals.
Explaining crossover cultural food fare, Dumas says, "The weirdest American culinary marriage is yams with melted marshmallows. I don't know who thought of this Thanksgiving tradition, but I'm guessing a hyperactive, toothless three-year-old." On Iranian wedding anniversaries: "It just initially seemed odd to celebrate the day that 'our families decided we should marry even though I had never met you, and frankly, it's not working out so well.'" On trying to fit in with her American peers: "At the time, my father drove a Buick LeSabre, a fancy French word meaning 'OPEC thanks you.'"
Dumas also documents her first year as a new mother, the familial chaos that ensues after she removes the television set from the house, the experience of taking 51 family members on a birthday cruise to Alaska, and a road trip to Iowa with an American once held hostage in Iran.
Droll, moving, and relevant, Laughing Without an Accent shows how our differences can unite us - and provides indelible proof that Firoozeh Dumas is a humorist of the highest order.
This bouncy follow-up to Funny in Farsi has too much heart to be shrugged off as froth. Humorist Firoozeh Dumas resists playing gimmicky Western misperceptions of Islamic culture for gags. Instead, in Laughing Without an Accent, she affectionately chronicles a childhood in Iran, teenage years in Southern California, marriage to a French man, and her doting, nutty Persian family's diligent attempts to adapt to life in "Amrika". "The velour navy jogging suit is my male relatives' default attire," Dumas notes. "After all of them had acquired second and, in some cases, third pairs, they started getting catty."
Teasing out the absurdity underlying ordinary situations is the introspective Dumas' cup of tea, particularly when she reinvents her parents' quirks as universal comic zingers, rather than progress reports on their cultural assimilation. When her father turns eighty, 51 relatives cram aboard an Alaskan cruise ship, where they're tailed by the crew's pricey shutterbug. "My father...kept interrogating relatives about the number of photos they had purchased," observes Dumas. "Then converting that to Iranian currency and letting them know what that money would have purchased in prerevolutionary Iran."
Laughing Without an Accent is, I'm sure, wry and lively in its written form. But as narrated by Firoozeh Dumas a 2005 Audie Award finalist in her creamy-textured, toasted licorice voice, it upgrades to an indelible personal account. Dumas uses even pacing, few pauses, and a soothing, chatty tone to build intimacy. Her warm honeysuckle inflections groove with character-specific dialogue and she's most animated when narrating sections in Farsi, her lyrical native tongue, or imitating her mother's charmingly accented English. ("Vat? Eez very good.") She is such splendid company that when Dumas reflects "this feeling of being on the outside has shaped me into the perfect party guest", it seems even she must know she eez better than just very good. Nita Rao
"There's such warmth to Dumas' writing that it invites the reader to pull up a seat at her table and smile right along with her at the quirks of her family and Iranians and Americans in general." (
"These stories, like everything Firoozeh Dumas writes, are charming, highly amusing vignettes of family life. Dumas is one of those rare people - a naturally gifted storyteller." (Alexander McCall Smith)
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