in any language
Interview with author Firoozeh Dumas
By Golnoosh Niknejad
January 14, 2004
As those of you who have already read
the book know, Funny
in Farsi [See excerpt]
is a hilarious account of growing up Iranian in America. The writing
With cunning wit, Firoozeh Dumas spins poignant
social commentary about Americans -- and to some
extent the French -- and life in America. Her
observations strike at the heart of the immigrant
experience, but they also cast a ray of sunshine in
the face of adversity. In between teary bouts of
laughter, the philosopher in everyone may see an
Iranian Sisyphus rolling a rock to the top of the
mountain, but finding the effort not so futile after
Portraits of the author's family are honest, charming
and intelligent. What others may seek to hide, Ms.
Dumas brings out boastingly.
in Farsi recently hit the Los Angeles
Times bestsellers list. The book was also selected for "Orange
County Reads One Book" in 2004. Since the
publication of her book, Ms. Dumas has been busy
writing for NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the San
Francisco Chronicle, and Lifetime magazine.
This interview with Ms. Dumas first appeared in the
Payvand Times, a publication in Cupertino, California.
Golnoosh: How did this book come about?
Firoozeh: My father has always been a storyteller.
I grew up listening to his stories all the
time. He told me so many stories about his
childhood that I felt like I grew up with him.
When I had children, I knew I wanted them to
know my story. When my youngest went to
kindergarten, I joined a writers' group. I started
writing in January of 2001, and that's how
this project happened.
G: How does your family feel about this book, do
they like it?
F: My extended family is very pleased with it.
They all have a great sense of humor so they
of course find it very amusing. My children
and my husband are also quite tickled by the
whole thing. My husband is stunned, more
than anything else.
G: By what aspect of it?
F: I'd never written before, and he really
thought that this was another hobby, my
writing stories. He's French. This is all something
outside of his culture. So the whole time I was
writing it -- when I got an agent, when I got a
publisher, every step of the way -- he said, ëOh my
God, I can't believe this is happening.' I feel like
I've lived the
American dream, in a way.
G: It was intriguing to see a review of your book
by Jimmy Carter.
F: Everyone asks me about that. Of course
Jimmy Carter was president during the revolution. When
I used to watch him on television, he always struck me
as a very honest person. When the revolution happened,
and the whole hostage [crisis], Ö he was getting
blamed for everything. Even though I was 12
or 13, I thought this guy was really being used
as a scapegoat. When he lost the presidency
because of the hostages, and my dad lost his
job at the same time, I always felt like there
were these two men who were really at the
wrong place at the wrong time.
So when I finished my book, my agent said, ë
Think about someone who might be able to
give you a quote -- you're a first time author,
no one has heard of you.' I said, 'I want Jimmy
Carter.' She said, ëJimmy Carter? Forget it.
Why in the world would he give you a quote?'
I'm a human rights activist through and
through. What he has done after his presidency,
I have so much respect for. So I wrote
him a letter and sent it to the Carter Center in
Georgia. Three weeks later, I get this letter
from him. It was really amazing. I was so
touched. The man is a Nobel Peace Prize
winner, so I am so honored.
G: Is there another book in store?
F: Right now I'm so deluged with appearances.
[She is preparing for appearances in
Orange County for ìOrange County Reads
One Book Year Twoî. Festivities kick off in
Orange County consists of 34 cities. Every
year they pick one book. So this year they
have picked my book. They have all these
cultural programs around this book. This is
the year of Iran in Orange County. They are
going to be teaching about Iran in schools.
They're going to have endless programs
about it, stuff in museums, all kinds of cultural
programs. It's, I think, the most positive publicity
Iran has gotten in that area. So I am very
involved with that program. I have to fly here
and there, because I live in Northern California.
I'm [also] right now working on a story for an
anthology. UC Berkeley has asked me to be
the editor of a book there, which is a story
about reactions to 9/11. I am overcome with
requests to do things. I'm touched in that people
really want to hear about the Middle East
in a positive light.
As an American friend of mine once put it, ë
Every time I see an Iranian movie, or read an
Iranian book, it's depressing.' I think because
I write a lot of times about what's right about
our culture, people are just thirsty for that. I'm
G: You have a very positive spin on everything.
F: I think we have a fantastic culture, but we
have a lot to learn. We have a lot to offer.
Same with America. America has a lot to
teach us, and they have a lot to learn from us.
G: Have you read the other Iranian memoirs
F: I have, absolutely. I think they're fantastic.
[Unlike when I was growing up] there are so many good
ones out there now. I'm so proud.
G: It's interesting. They're
all written by women.
F: You know, I have a theory on that. I think it's
because we're so used to being beaten down, in a way.
Once we stand up, it's like, 'All right! I'm going
stand up as far as I want to stand up.' There's an
inherent struggle in being a Middle Eastern woman.
G: Anything else you would like to add before
we wrap up?
F: I very much would like to see Iranians have
a more positive image of America. I encourage
Iranians to get involved in their communities.
When we came to America, there were no Iranians living
where we were. So we definitely had to get involved.
Because there are so many Iranians living here,
I feel in a way it is both a blessing and a curse because you
can come here and create a little Iran and
never really step out of that. I always tell
Iranians, 'Vote! Definitely vote.' There is no
excuse for an Iranian. Look at what people
will do in Iran for the right to vote. They've
risked their lives going out in the streets and
having demonstrations and getting beaten to
a pulp. For any of us to be here and not to
vote is shameless.
G: I think if we did that we would have
a lot more political power. There is so much we
could do. We are a very large and educated
community. And we have a great deal of economic power.
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