Not long ago, I was asking around about books set on cruise ships. Jason did some research and discovered this collection of nonfiction stories, one of which is indeed set on a cruise. Considering that the stories are written by an Iranian-American immigrant, and my other personal kryptonite is Middle Eastern culture, he figured this was a safe bet to get for me. He was very right, because this book was excellent!
Laughing Without an Accent consists of 28 tales, some funny, some serious. They range from incidents from Dumas’ childhood in Iran to her experiences as a parent in California. I was hooked from the beginning, during the discussion of how an Iranian translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses has been stuck in the censor’s office for seventeen years, and the censor is probably snoring at his desk, because this is the sort of book that “could use some nudity.” That cracked me up, and set just the right tone for the stories to come.
There is so much in here. Food, travel, bizarre conferences, parent-guilt and daughter-guilt, culture shock and mishaps…the sorts of family stories that circulate frequently through the years, getting bigger with each retelling. The serious was mixed in with the humorous, discussions on what it was like to be an Iranian-American teenager when the Iranian Revolution happened, and the people who profit by hate (like selling millions of nasty bumper stickers or writing nasty parody songs), and the important things in life that sweep across culture, country, and religion.
I could have written a review for every single one of the 28 stories in this book. They were written conversationally, and after each one I had an “Oh that reminds me of…” moment, except with no one to converse back with, heh. And all the time I wanted to say that this is what we’re missing in our country when we discuss the Middle East. We see the bad things and hear the horror stories, but that’s the thing. We have bad things and horror stories right here at home, but not all of us are bad, horrible people. Most of us are just normal people with good days and bad days and faults and strengths and families and dreams and memories – and so are the people of the Middle East. The more we can see and understand that this is a trait common throughout the world – again, across culture, country, and religion – the more peaceful we will become. It’s like Dumas said in the last of these stories (one of the many quotes I marked in my copy): “I assume the number one rule in war is ‘Don’t get to know the enemy.’ Glimpses of shared humanity make it so hard to kill others.”