Funny In Farsi Summary
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Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi, was seven years old when her family relocated in the United States from Iran. After the Iranian Revolution in 1972 Firoozeh’s father Kazeem lost his job as an engineer for the National Iranian Oil Company. In order to support himself and his family, Kazeem took a job working for an Iranian company operating out of California. Kazeem and the rest of the family – Firoozeh, her mother Nazireh, and brother Farshid – were granted a two-year visa (which was eventually extended into a permanent visa).
Even before leaving Iran, Firoozeh had envisioned America as a kind of magical place where she and her family would be free of the problems they were accustomed to while living in Iran. Firoozeh’s positive impression of the U.S. was largely due to what she had heard about the country from her father, who had spent some time living in Texas as the winner of a Fulbright Award. Firoozeh, along with the rest of her family, were also optimistic about the move because of Kareem’s familiarity with English.
Despite her lofty ideas about the United States, Firoozeh still finds the transition to life in the U.S. to be awkward. Unable to handle the stress of attending a new school by herself, Firoozeh is accompanied by her mother Nazireh. Having her mother present provides some comfort to Firoozeh during those difficult first days. She quickly learns, however, that her mother cannot solve all of the problems she faces as she learns to acclimate herself to her new surroundings. After being dropped off by the school bus at the end of Firoozeh’s first day of school, Firoozeh and Narizeh are unable to find their way home. They are unaccustomed to the lay of the land in their new suburban environment and cannot recognize any landmarks to help guide them back to their house. They circle around the neighborhood until they are aided by some Americans who also live in the area and notice Firoozeh and Narizeh in distress. Firoozeh experiences additional distress when the family takes a trip to Disneyland and Firoozeh gets separated from her family. She is eventually taken to the lost child area and found by her parents after waiting for several hours. These events are scary and disorienting for Firoozeh, but they also make Firoozeh more comfortable and trusting of Americans, who consistently present themselves as friendly and helpful.
These early misadventures have other positive consequences for Firoozeh. The most significant, perhaps, is that she recognizes that in order to adapt to life in America, she must learn to become independent from her parents and to ingratiate herself more deeply in American culture. Driven by such motivations, Firoozeh becomes proficient in English, surpassing even her mother – who picks up most of her knowledge of English from watching American game shows — and serving as her translator. But Firoozeh doesn’t stop there. Finding that she has a flair for languages, Firoozeh decides to study French. She excels so much in her study of French that, at the age of seventeen, she wins an award and receives a free trip to France as her prize.
Unfortunately, many Americans start to become suspicious of Persians due to political events happening in Iran happening at the same time Firoozeh is advancing in her studies. As relations between the United States and Iran become strained, Iranian businesses begin cutting back on operations within the U.S.. Kazeem once again finds himself out of work and is forced to take a lower paying job at an American company. Suspicions about Persians also spread around France, and Firoozeh is called in by French authorities, who bring her in for questioning.
Thankfully, Firoozeh is not detained for long by the French authorities. She returns to the United States where she enrolls in college at U.C. Berkeley. It is while she is in school there that she meets her future husband, Francois Dumas. Firoozeh’s parents were not happy at first upon learning about Firoozeh’s engagement. Adapting to life in a foreign country was one thing; it was quite another to have the ethnic identity of the family altered, as it would be if Firoozeh were to marry Francois, a Frenchman.
Since arriving in the U.S., Firoozeh and her family had gradually become more comfortable in their surroundings. But there are some aspects of American culture that would remain alien to them, even after living in the U.S. for many years. For example, every year around Christmastime the family was assailed with Christmas decorations, music, television specials, etc. Since Firoozeh’s family was not Christian, these holiday symbols were, for them, reminders that they would always to some extent remain outsiders. For although they sought to integrate themselves as best they could into the American culture, they were not willing to sever their connection to their Persian roots. Such desire to preserve their family’s Persian identity and connection to Persian culture that made Firoozeh’s family uneasy about her plan to marry Francois.
In the end, however, they were able to reach a compromise. This is perhaps best symbolized by the fact that Firoozeh and Francois had both a traditional Catholic marriage ceremony and a traditional Persian ceremony. Ultimately, Dumas’ book illustrates that integrating into a foreign culture is not an easy process; it is not always easy, nor desirable, for a foreigner to disavow his or her ties to the traditions of his or her homeland; but if one is pragmatically minded and willing to compromise, it is possible to create a happy and fulfilling life for oneself even in a strange and foreign land.
When she’s seven years old, Firoozeh, along with her father, Kazem, her mother, Nazireh, and her older brother, Farshid, move from Abadan, Iran to Whittier, California. Kazem is an intelligent engineer working for a large Iranian petroleum company, and he needs to be in the United States for his work. Over the next two years, Firoozeh slowly adjusts to her American surroundings.
One of the first things Firoozeh decides about American society is that it’s kind and generous. On her first day of school, Firoozeh can barely understand what’s going on, since she speaks virtually no English. She and her mother get lost when they try to walk home, but a friendly American family lets them use the phone to call Kazem. Afterwards, Firoozeh quickly learns to speak English well, and very soon she can speak without any trace of an accent.
Although Kazem has lived in the United States years ago, when he studied in California and Texas as a Fulbright scholar, he’s largely ignorant of American culture, and his English isn’t great. He immerses himself in American culture, studying documents of any kind and watching hours of junky television. Nazireh is less interested in making friends with other Americans or improving her English, and even today, she doesn’t speak good English. Firoozeh perfects her own English learning how to translate for her mother. Kazem takes his family to various “all-American” places, such as Disneyland and Las Vegas, and he’s extremely enthusiastic about American pop culture—to the point where Firoozeh gradually comes to find Disneyland boring.
Firoozeh does well in school, but her classmates sometimes regard her as odd because she’s from a faraway country. Students asks her if there are camels in her country, and even parents assume that she speaks the same language as everyone else who lives in the Middle East. After two years, Kazem moves his family back to Iran, but shortly afterwards, his company sends him back to California, this time to Newport. During the early years of their second period in the U.S., Kazem takes him family on trips to Vegas, Hawaii, and Yosemite National Park, and Firoozeh goes to a summer camp, during which she refuses to bathe and spends all her time making key chains.
Many of Kazem’s relatives, with whom he’s extremely close, come to visit him and stay with him in California. Kazem loves his siblings, as well as his nephews and nieces, and whenever any one of them gets good news, the good news makes them all equally happy. As Firoozeh grows older, she learns more about her father. Unlike many other people in Iran, he doesn’t obey the Muslim ban on eating ham, and in general he’s not very religious at all. As a young man, Kazem did well on the prestigious Fulbright exam and earned a scholarship to Texas A&M. During his time in the U.S., Kazem met Albert Einstein and decided that he would raise his own family in the U.S., where his children would have lots of opportunities for success.
Firoozeh grows up with great respect for her family and Iranian culture. She’s very close with her uncles, aunts, and cousins, who provide her with lots of love and encouragement. However, she doesn’t admire everything about Iranian culture. Her mother, Nazireh, only has a sixth-grade education, and she had children with Kazem when she was only seventeen years old. Firoozeh admires other women in her family, such as her Aunt Parvine, partly because she became a successful doctor in Switzerland instead of doing what Iranian society expected her to do.
In the late 1970s, the Iranian Revolution breaks out, and Iran goes from being an important Middle Eastern country in America’s eyes to a symbol of danger. Revolutionaries take American hostages in Tehran and threaten to kill them. In the meantime, Iran reforms its oil economy, meaning that Kazem no longer has a job in the U.S. He tries to find other opportunities, but no American or Saudi companies want to hire an Iranian. Shortly after the hostage crisis ends, he gets a new job that pays much less money.
Firoozeh works hard as a teenager to pay her way through college. She excels at writing essays for scholarship money, and also wins a two-month stay in Paris to study French. Her visit to Paris is a little disappointing, however, since she doesn’t make any French friends, and finds the classes dull.
Firoozeh attends the University of California at Berkeley, and graduates with honors. There she also meets a French Catholic student named François Dumas, who later becomes her husband. In Iranian culture, marrying a non-Iranian is often frowned upon, but Kazem and Nazireh welcome François into their family. Unbeknownst to them, François’s parents are appalled that he’s marrying an Iranian woman, and many of his family members don’t attend the wedding. François and Firoozeh are married, first by a Catholic priest and then in the traditional Persian fashion. They move into a San Francisco apartment, and later have children. While she’s married to François, Firoozeh thinks more deeply about beauty standards and about the sexism of Iranian culture. She admires women who show confidence in their bodies and achieve success professionally. During a trip to the Bahamas, Firoozeh and François judge a beauty pageant and choose a conventionally unattractive but highly intelligent and articulate young woman as the winner.
Throughout her marriage to François, Firoozeh remains extremely close with the rest of her family. She admires her father for his extraordinary generosity to his friends, both in America and back in Iran. Kazem often tells her, “I’m a rich man in America … I just don’t have a lot of money.”
Arn, Jackson. "Funny in Farsi Plot Summary." LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 24 Jul 2017. Web. 13 Mar 2018.
Arn, Jackson. "Funny in Farsi Plot Summary." LitCharts LLC, July 24, 2017. Retrieved March 13, 2018. http://www.litcharts.com/lit/funny-in-farsi/summary.