Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567
In her groundbreaking novel, Firoozeh Dumas uses humor to highlight the immigrant experience. It's definitely an effective tool: humor is disarming and helps us relate to Firoozeh's unique experiences as an Iranian-American.
For many 1st generation immigrants, English is often a stumbling block. It is a difficult experience calibrating one's thoughts to take into account foreign expectations. Yet, Dumas' skillful use of humor endears us to her family's struggles with diction, accents, and American culture.
I always encouraged my mother to learn English, but her talents lay elsewhere. Since she had never learned English in school, she had no idea of its grammar. She would speak entire sentences without using any verbs. She referred to everyone and everything as "it," leaving the listener wondering whether she was talking about her husband or the kitchen table. Even if she did speak a sentence more or less correctly, her accent made it incomprehensible. "W" and "th" gave her the most difficulty. As if God was playing a linguistic joke on us, we lived in "Vee-tee-er" (Whittier)...and our neighbor was none other than "Valter Villiams."
Dumas also explores Iranian idioms and proverbs and how their traditional interpretations clash with western expectations. Take for example, the Iranian proverb: "Room in the heart, room in the house." In Iran, the idea of a visit is marked by "seasons, not nights." So, relatives do not stay for a few days; rather, they stay for months at a time. Dumas tells us that this often translates into many loads of extra laundry for her mother and long lines for the bathroom.
In American culture, it is only a rude guest who burdens his host in this way.
However, Iranians take pride in how they welcome their guests and are prepared to endure the inconveniences associated with the dictates of hospitality.
Dumas also uses direct and indirect characterization to tell her story. She tells us what her parents are like, but she also uses dialogue and actions to reveal the unique personalities of each of her family members.
My father and his younger brother, Nematollah, share many interests, none stronger than the love of new foods...Every day, Kazem and Nematollah, like cavemen headed for the hunt, would drive to the local supermarket, returning with cans and boxes of mysterious American products.
After several weeks of trying every TV dinner, canned good, and cereal, my father and uncle concluded that the only ready-made American foods worth buying were canned chili, ice cream, and Chips Ahoy cookies.
Dumas' skillful use of humor and similes make us smile. We begin to understand how strange our conventional American foods must taste to a foreign tongue. Dumas writes with grace, humor, and an immense affection for her Iranian-American heritage. Her exuberant delight in symbols that emphasize the importance of rituals in both American and Iranian cultures is clear.
In marrying Francois, Dumas tells us that she also accepts his French ways and very Catholic traditions. In fact, both attend a marriage retreat at a convent before their marriage (one presided over by a Catholic priest). In return, Francois submits to the traditional Persian ceremony of aqd. In aqd, the basket of almonds and walnuts represent fertility, while the platter of feta cheese, herbs, and flat bread symbolize happiness and prosperity.
Dumas' book certainly highlights her affection and deep love for her adopted country; it's certainly an engaging read.
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