Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Common Reading

MDC Hialeah Campus, Learning Resources, Common Reading

Funny in Farsi

Firoozeh Dumas

New York Times Bestselling Author of Funny in Farsi:

A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and Laughing Without an Accent

 

      Firoozeh Dumas was born in Abadan, Iran and, in the 1972, moved to Southern California with her family. She grew up listening to her father, a former Fulbright Scholar, recount the many colorful stories of his life in both Iran and America. In 2001, with no prior writing experience, Firoozeh decided to write her stories as a gift for her children. Funny in Farsi was on the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times bestseller lists and was a finalist for the PEN/USA award in 2004 and a finalist in 2005 for an Audie Award for best audio book.  She lost to Bob Dylan.  She was also a finalist for the prestigious Thurber Prize for American Humor, which she lost to Jon Stewart. She is the only Middle Easterner ever to be considered for this honor. In 2008, She was awarded the Spirit of America Award by the National Council of Social Studies. She shares this honor with Jimmy Carter, Rosa Parks and Mr. Rogers.

Critics and readers of all ages have loved her stories. Jimmy Carter called Funny in Farsi “A humorous and introspective chronicle of a life filled with love—of family, country and heritage.”

Funny in Farsi has developed a cult following among educators, selling almost half a million copies. It is part of the curriculum in many junior highs, high schools and colleges around the country where it is often the only humorous and most popular book on reading lists. Even though students are initially hooked in by the humor, educators have found that Firoozeh’s books are a gateway to many conversations, including shared humanity, immigration, language, family and identity. A free study guide is available on her website.

Many community reading programs have used Firoozeh’s books for their citywide reads with great success. Firoozeh’s stories appeal to all ages and backgrounds and her humor resonates with a wide audience.  She is a writer who loves speaking and  interacting with audiences and readers.

In April 2005, Firoozeh’s one-woman show, “Laughing Without an Accent” opened in Northern California to sold out audiences at Theatreworks in Mountain View, California. Firoozeh incorporates much of what she learned from her one-woman show in her speeches, adding yet another layer of entertainment to her thought-provoking, yet humorous talks.

For the past sixteen years, Firoozeh has traveled the world reminding us that our commonalities far outweigh our differences. Her travels have taken her throughout rural America, from the East Coast to the West Coast, from Harvard University to UCLA and to Europe and Asia. Everywhere she has gone, audiences have embraced her message of shared humanity while laughing at her humorous tales. She has been the keynote speaker at educational conferences throughout the United States and in Europe.

Firoozeh Dumas’s second memoir, entitled Laughing without an Accent, was published in May 2008 is a New York Times bestseller. Alexander McCall Smith had this to say, “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.”

 In 2016, Firoozeh’s first book of historical fiction, It Aint So Awful, Falafel, was published to critical acclaim and is currently used in grades 4-9. It was a Kirkus 'starred' book and a 2016 Time Magazine Top 10 YA and Children’s Book. In addition, It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel was selected as the 2017 recipient of the California Library Association’s John and Patricia Beatty Award, the New York Historical Society's 2017 New Americans Children’s History Book Prize, the Sunshine State Young Reader Award 2017 and was a finalist for the Young Reader Medal in California. 

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, is being used in schools throughout the United States. Its protagonist is a smart Middle Eastern girl with a sense of humor, something not often found in books for middle grade.  The story resonates with middle schoolers of all backgrounds and is particularly loved by students not often represented by fiction. A free study guide is available on author’s website.

 

Course Guide

Funny in Farsi is appropriate for most reading levels, and its humor and relatability will make it appealing to a wide variety of readers. The book lends itself to frank discussions about ethnic assumptions, cultural differences, and racial biases, and the author’s tremendously entertaining and unflinching look at her own family’s misadventures offers fertile territory for class discussion and analysis.

Firoozeh Dumas - The book's author and main character. The book is Firoozeh's memoir.

Kazem - Firoozeh's dad. 

Nazireh - Firoozeh's mother. 

Francois - Firoozeh’s husband. 

Farid - Firoozeh's eldest brother. 

Farshid - Firoozeh’s older brother. 

Uncle Nematollah - Kazem’s brother. 

Aunt Parvine - Firoozeh’s aunt who is a doctor.

Aunt Sedigeh - Firoozeh’s aunt who gardens. Kazem's sister.

Uncle Abdullah - Firoozeh’s uncle who is a translator. Married to Sedigeh.

Uncle Muhammad - Firoozeh’s uncle who became a doctor twice. Kazem’s oldest brother. 

Uncle Ali - Firoozeh’s uncle.

Noelle - The concierge in Paris who Firoozeh befriended.

Golda - An elderly lady who lived beneath Firoozeh and Francois in San Francisco. 

Mrs. SandbergFiroozeh's second grade teacher.

Themes

  • Cultural Assimilation
  • Immigration
  • Family Values
  • Prejudice

Persian Terms

  • ameh - father’s sister
  • amoo - father’s brother
  • aqd - Persian wedding ceremony
  • dye-yee - mother’s brother
  • khaleh - mother’s sister
  • pessar ameh - son of father’s sister
  • pessar amoo - son of father’s brother
  • shohar ameh - husband of father’s sister
  • shohar khaleh - husband of mother’s sister
  • sofreh - a hand-sewn cloth on which family arranges food and objects that carry special meaning in the traditional wedding ceremony

General Questions

  1. The theme of Funny in Farsi is “shared humanity.” What does that mean to you?
    • How would our communities, both locally and globally, be different if we saw our commonalities before our differences?
  2. Most Americans’ perception of the Middle East is limited to what is shown on the evening news. Since only bad news is news, how does this effect the perception of Middle Eastern immigrants in this county?
  3. Should immigrants speak their native language at home?

Funny in Farsi Discussion Questions 

  1. What will you title your memoir? Explain why.
  2. Why do you think Firoozeh wrote this book? What is the central theme? Are there recurring motifs, and if so what are they? Discuss the role of wordplay in the chapter titles. Why might the author have chosen to include references to songs in some of these titles?
  3. Funny in Farsi is like a photo album, each story a snapshot of the author’s life. Why do you think she chose the particular stories? Which stories from your life would you choose if you were to write a memoir?
  4. Rewrite one of Firoozeh’s stories without using humor. How is it different? In what specific ways does humor enhance the story?
  5. How did Kazem’s experience as a Fulbright Scholar shape his image of America? What role does education play in the attainment of the American dream, and is it still possible for everyone? Discuss why or why not.
  6. Kazem believes that every eligible citizen in a democracy should vote. How do we encourage voting? Should voting be mandatory? What tactics have been used to prevent citizens from voting? Discuss a country where citizens are currently risking their lives for the right to vote (Discuss the 15th Amendment, women’s suffrage, and the 19th Amendment in America).
  7. Firoozeh and her family struggled to understand American comedy shows on television. Does humor translate from one language to another, from one culture to another? Are there universal themes to humor? Give an example of something that is funny in one country but not in another.
  8. Firoozeh is embarrassed to be with her mother at school. Is being embarrassed about one’s parents a universal experience? Why or why not?
  9. English is a confusing language. Discuss the phrases that might confuse non-native speakers. Every language has expressions that make no sense if translated literally into another language. Give an example. There are words such as wabi-sabi, duende, or schadenfreude that exist in one language only and yet convey universal concepts. Can you name other words like this?
  10. How and what we eat differs from culture to culture and from family to family. What is in your pantry? Discuss your family’s food traditions. Discuss the different approaches towards meal preparation in Firoozeh’s life in Abadan and in Whittier. Is what we eat a political act? Some say it is a form of voting. How does what we eat affect the world?
  11. The America Firoozeh describes in the early 1970s is vastly different from America fifty years later. How would her experience be different if she had immigrated in 2020?
  12. Firoozeh’s French husband, Francois, had a very different experience as in immigrant in America. Do you make assumptions about people based on their names or countries of origin? What role does the evening news play in creating images of other countries? What role does Hollywood play? What is the image of America, or your native country, as conveyed by the evening news? Tell us something positive about your country or hometown that we would never see on the news.
  13. In sixth grade, Firoozeh changed her first name to simplify her life. This is very common among immigrants. Do you know someone who changed his or her name? How might having a difficult foreign name negatively impact one’s life? How might it have a positive impact?
  14. Discuss this quote from Firoozeh’s father, Kazem:
    • “It’s not what we eat or don’t eat that makes us good people; it’s how we treat one another. As you grow older, you’ll find that people of every religion think they’re the best, but that’s not true. There are good and bad people in every religion. Just because someone is Muslim, Jewish, or Christian doesn’t mean a thing. You have to look and see what’s in their heart. That’s the only thing that matters, and that’s the only detail God cares about.”
  15. Discuss this quote:
    • “He [Kazem] only said how sad it was that people so easily hate an entire population simply because of the actions of a few. And what a waste it is to hate, he always said. What a waste."
  16. During the hostage crisis, many Iranians in America felt targeted. In 2020, Iranians in America once again felt hostility directed towards them. Is it possible to learn from history or is every generation doomed to repeat the same mistakes? Why or why not? How can we combat the spread of hatred in our schools, our community, and our country today? How can we effectively learn from history?
  17. In the years since the Iranian revolution, Iranian immigrants have made many contributions to America. Discuss the contributions of other minorities in America.
  1. How does Firoozeh feel on her first day of elementary school when her mother cannot locate Iran on a map? What kinds of assumptions might her fellow classmates make about Firoozeh’s inability to speak English, her unusual Persian name, and her mother accompanying her to school? To what extent do you think language barriers are to blame for cultural misunderstandings?
  2. How would you characterize the role of television in Firoozeh’s family? Why does television’s visual medium connect her relatives to American products and attitudes in ways that their language cannot?
  3. How does Firoozeh’s experience at Disneyland, where she is encouraged to communicate with another missing child in her native Persian, expose Western biases about people who don’t speak English fluently? How do you feel about “racial profiling,” or making assumptions about someone’s ethnicity based on their appearance and accent? On what past occasions have you experienced or carried out racial profiling, and how do you feel about it now, in light of Firoozeh’s encounter?
  4. How did the experiences of Firoozeh and her family in America compare to how their friends who arrived after the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis were treated? Why are immigrants whose native countries are in conflict with their adopted country sometimes subjected to mistreatment and–in some cases–discrimination or abuse? What does this all-too-common phenomenon suggest about the intersection of patriotism and xenophobia?
  5. What does Firoozeh’s decision to take an American name suggest about her feelings toward her adopted country? What might her name change to Julie suggest about her identity as an immigrant? How does her dual identity (and her ability to speak English without any discernable accent) enable her to see how Americans really feel about Iran?
  6. Firoozeh’s father, Kazem, is grateful for his opportunity to vote as a naturalized American citizen. Why might being able to vote make someone feel especially connected with one’s community or country? Based on the information about Iran you have learned from Funny in Farsi, how do the political rights of Iranian citizens compare to the political rights of American citizens?
  7. How does Firoozeh’s use of humor to describe her experiences as an Iranian immigrant in America enable you to appreciate the more confusing or mystifying aspects of American culture? How would the experience of reading this book differ for you if it were told from a more serious perspective? Of the many humorous moments detailed by Firoozeh Dumas, which was most memorable for you, and why?

Anecdote - A short description or an account of any event to support some point that makes the readers laugh over the topic presented for the purpose.

Autobiography - A type of biography written by the author themselves to record their own lives.

Bias - A one-side illogical and non-neutral support of a viewpoint in favor against the other side.

Biography - Typically written in third person, a biography is a non-fiction and objective account of a person's life.

Comic Relief - A literary device used in plays and novels to introduce light entertainment between tragic scenes.

Imagery - Imagery is a literary device that refers to the use of figurative language to evoke a sensory experience with words for a reader.

Irony - Irony is a literary device in which contradictory statements or situations reveal a reality that is different from what appears to be true.

Memoir - A story involving reflections on memories of particular events in someone's life.

Metaphor - A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two non-similar things.

Motif - An object or idea that repeats itself throughout a literary work.

Novel - A long work of fiction written in prose.

Propaganda - The spreading of rumors, false or correct information, or an idea, in order to influence the opinion of society.

Semantic - The interpretation and meaning of the words, sentence structure, and symbols.

Setting - Device that allows the writer of a narrative to establish the time, location, and environment in which it takes place. 

Simile - A figure of speech in which two essentially dissimilar objects or concepts are expressly compared with one another through the use of “like” or “as.”

Stereotype - Preconceived notion about people or things with a particular characteristics. 

Symbolism - Device that refers to the use of symbols in a literary work, representing something beyond literal meaning.

Theme - Underline Refers to the central, deeper meaning of a written work. 

Tone - Device that reflects the writer’s attitude toward a subject matter or audience of a literary work.

 

Source: Literary Devices Definitions and Examples

Beyond the Book

Library Resources