Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: Funny in Farsi

So while searching for books to use for a World Lit class I'm teaching this year, a college friend suggested Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. Lucky for me, Random House was offering this books as a free download right then, so I got to read it right away. I absolutely loved it.

Funny in Farsi begins when seven-year-old Dumas and her family move from Iran to California. Dumas becomes the cultural and language translator for her parents, as she quickly learns English, and spends the next several years balancing between being American and being Iranian. With humor, Dumas addresses some serious topics: the Iranian hostage crisis, the difficulty of language and cultural barrier, religion, food, and more.

I loved Dumas's voice. She is funny and down-to-earth, but beneath her witticisms there is an obvious ache at the hardships of being an Iranian in America. Having read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis earlier this year, I enjoyed reading a totally different perspective on growing up Iranian. What is barely spoken of in Funny in Farsi is presently starkly in Persepolis. Dumas expresses herself through humor, while Satrapi works through her grim drawings.

I read that ABC is going to be shooting a pilot for Funny in Farsi, and I will definitely try to catch that. Television may ruin the whole thing, of course, but I will definitely be reading her new memoir, Laughing Without an Accent.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Big Thick Book

I was a bit mortified to realize that I haven't reviewed a book in nearly three weeks. I've been having an odd reading summer since I've been concentrating on re-reading classics or reading them anew. For the past week I've been immersed in an unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Again, this is one of those books that I can't believe, in all my years of literature courses, that I've never read. I don't remember it ever even being on a reading list! But one of my friends says this is her favorite book and another suggested I have my World Lit students read it, so I finally ordered it.

Now I'm having a hard time putting it down. I am only 200 pages into this 1200-page book, and I was wrapped up in the story from the first page. I need to get some serious reading time in, more than just 30 minutes before falling asleep each night, or I'll be reading this until December!

But today promises to be a gray, rainy day—exactly the kind of day for reading a big, thick book after church. If only I can stay awake.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Book Review: People of the Book

Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders was on my Top 10 list from last year. Absolutely fantastic. She won the Pulitzer with March, which I've not read yet, and she is going strong with her newest, People of the Book.

The novel follows the trail of a 500-year-old Sarajevo Haggadah, going backwards on its journey from wartorn Sarajevo to its creation, in the 1400s. Each section tells the tale of that century's holder of the Haggadah, people of various faiths who risked their reputations and lives to save the precious book from wars, book burnings, and neglect. Each of those sections was interspersed with the story of Hanna, a rare-book expert who is commissioned to restore the manuscript.

Brooks is a superb writer, and the story was fascinating. Each section is a world of its own, and the reader is easily transported to that time period and caught up in that character's story. And with each section, I was left wishing I could read a whole novel about that particular story. I wasn't nearly as entranced by Hanna's contemporary story as I was by the other sections, but it worked well as a whole.

I should have read this book faster, as I did keep losing track of whose story was being told. That has nothing to do with Brooks' writing but a suggestion that you might want to have a clear head when reading this book (i.e., my before-bed reading time did not do this book justice). My only niggling complaint with this book is that its style closely mimics The Girl in Hyacinth Blue (my review here), a lovely novel by Susan Vreeland. The style is so similar that I at first felt gypped, like, "Hey, I've already been here before!" I realize that this is probably a fairly common novel technique (although as a voracious reader, I have to say I've only encountered it in these two novels and in Hitty: Her First Hundred Years) but somehow it bugged me that Brooks used the same pattern as Vreeland. Silly, I know.

Ignore my one little peeve, and read the book.