Laughing Without an Accent

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-08-11
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks

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Mining her rich Persian heritage with dry wit and a bold spirit, Firoozeh Dumas puts her own unique mark on the themes of family, community, and tradition. Explaining crossover cultural food fare, Dumas says, "The weirdest American culinary marriage is yams with melted marshmallows. I don't know who thought of this Thanksgiving tradition, but I'm guessing a hyperactive, toothless three-year-old." On Iranian wedding anniversaries: "It just initially seemed odd to celebrate the day that 'our families decided we should marry even though I had never met you, and frankly, it's not working out so well.' " Dumas also documents her first year as a new mother, the experience of taking fifty-one family members on a birthday cruise to Alaska, and a road trip to Iowa with an American once held hostage in Iran. Droll, moving, and relevant, Laughing Without an Accent shows how our differences can unite usand provides indelible proof that Firoozeh Dumas is a humorist of the highest order.

Author Biography

Originally from Iran, Firoozeh Dumas moved with her family to Southern California when she was seven years old. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She lives with her husband and children in Northern California.

From the Hardcover edition.


Funny in Persian

Iran does not currently adhere to international copyright laws. This comes as a shock to most people, given Iran’s law-abiding image.

Not adhering to international copyright laws means that any book, regardless of origin, can be translated into Persian and sold in Iran. No matter how poorly a book might be translated, the author has no control. No artist wants his name on a work that does not represent him fairly, but in Iran, tell it to the judge, and he doesn’t care. When Abbas Milani, a very well respected author and professor, found a Persian translation of his history book, he found it to be completely different from the original. He contacted the publisher in Iran, who told him, “Our translation is better than your book.”

Every time a Harry Potter installment is released, there is a mad rush around the world to translate the book. One Iranian publisher divides each book into about twenty sections, giving each section to a different translator. That way, his version, which must resemble a patchwork quilt more than anything J. K. Rowling actually wrote, is the first on the Iranian market.

Knowing such horror stories, I feared the inevitable translation of my memoirs, Funny in Farsi, into Persian. Funny in Farsi is a collection of humorous vignettes, verbal snapshots of my immigrant family. In that book I was very careful not to cross the line into anything embarrassing or insulting. My goal was to have the subjects of my story laugh with me, not cringe and want to move to Switzerland under assumed names. But for all I knew, a translated version might make my family look like fools. Even though I had not used my maiden name in the original printing of the book, it took about twelve minutes for the average Iranian to figure out my last name, Jazayeri. Iranians are very good that way.

I decided to make my own preemptive strike and find a translator in Iran. This was not as easy as it sounds. Humor, like poetry, is culture-specific and does not always work in translation. What’s downright hilarious in one culture may draw blank stares in another.

When we came to America, my family could not figure out why a pie thrown in someone’s face was funny. The laugh tracks told us it was supposed to be hilarious, but we thought it was obnoxious. We also saw it as a terrible waste of food, a real no-no for anyone from any country in the world except for the United States.

We were also baffled by Carol Burnett’s Tarzan yell. Anyone who watched her show regularly knew that during the audience question-and-answer section, one person would inevitably ask her to do her Tarzan yell. We always hoped she would say, “Not tonight.” But instead, she would let out a loud and long yell that left the audience in stitches and us bewildered. “She shouldn’t do that,” my dad always said. We agreed and waited for all her other sketches, which we loved. There was just something goofy about her that made us laugh, especially when she was with Tim Conway. His humor had much to do with facial expressions and body language, which, thankfully, did not require translation. There is also something universally funny about the contrast between a short man and a tall man, which was played out with Harvey Korman. Given that most of the men in my family are closer in height to Tim Conway than to Harvey Korman, I assume there was among us a nervous understanding of the foibles of the short man.

We also adored Flip Wilson, especially when he became Geraldine. That character sketch, with “Geraldine’s” sassy attitude, had us rocking back and forth in laughter on our ugly brown striped sofa. One time, Flip Wilson sang “He put the lime in the coconut” in his high-pitched mock-sultry Geraldine voice, and my father laughed so hard that he cried. I didn’t think it was that funny, but watching my fath

Excerpted from Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of a Global Citizen by Firoozeh Dumas
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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