Review: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

If you are a child of immigrants or an immigrant yourself, chances are almost all of Zomorod’s (nee Cindy) in It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel will be familiar to you. But I am getting ahead of myself. First, an introduction.

9780544612310_hres

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published May 3rd 2016 by Clarion Books
Source: Publisher

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel is the story about Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh who has moved to America from Iran because her father got transferred to an American oil company. The story is set in the late 1970s and deals with the effects of the Iranian revolution and the subsequent kidnapping of Americans in Iran.

I don’t know where to start talking about this book. I moved from Fiji to Canada in 2001 when I was 17 and reading Zomorod’s (I refuse to call her Cindy as she calls herself) experiences were very much like reading my own in some ways. For instance, this conversation/thoughts:

The first time we went into an American supermarket in Compton, we were going and down the aisles and all of a sudden, whoa! A whole aisle of food for cats and dogs! In Iran, most cats and dogs live on the streets and they’re lucky if someone throws a scrap of food at them now and then. Most of the time, they’re on their own In America, there’s dog food for young dogs, old dogs, fat dogs, small dogs, active dogs, and lazy dogs. And cats have choices like salmon-, beef-,  or chicken-flavoured meals.

I have never seen a cat in Iran walk away from food. Even if the meal is not their first choice, they eat it because who knows when the next meal will come. Plus, if they don’t eat their food, some other cat will for sure.

My dad says that the dogs and cats in America are luckier than most people in the world.

My parents and I have totally had them. When your next meal exist potentially only in your mind, you will eat whatever comes your way and this applies not just to animals but also to people elsewhere in the world.

Zomorod’s experiences in her new town are largely positive. She finds friends and a place to belong. And then the Iranian revolution happens and some Americans are taken hostage by Iranian revolutionaries. All of a sudden, Zomorod and her family become enemies of the Americans they used to count as their friends and colleagues. Zomorod’s father loses his job, Zomorod’s mother retreats deeper inside herself and Zomorod sinks deeper into depression.

Once again, this experience is something I have experienced myself. Being Muslim in this day and age seems to be all people need to find you guilty of a crime you didn’t comment or perhaps even know about. Zomorod is luckier than a lot of people in finding the close friends she does because they rally around her even when she tries to push them away.

The best thing about It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel is the authenticity of Zomorod’s voice–Dumas says in an author’s note at the end that the novel is semi-autobiographical and this is apparent in the emotional sincerity in the tone the novel is narrated in. Zomorod’s mother is a very intriguing character and though oftentimes the relationship between them is a source for comedy, it is obvious that Zomorod’s mom is struggling with homesickness and the conflicting feelings that arise from feeling guilty for something you had no hand in.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel is a more cheerful novel than I thought it would be and ends on a far lighter note than I expected it to. Dumas’s experiences as an immigrant are largely positive and though she has to contend with racism and bigotry, there are good people around her. I did think that the niceness of all the people was a bit unrealistic but that just may be the cynic in me.

Zomorod is a feisty character and her observations are spot-on. Her horror at having to tell people her full name (too many o’s, she says) and the way she takes revenge in the only way a pre-teen can are marvelous to read. And then there’s this:

“I probably should take Spanish,” I say, “because ever since I moved to Newport Beach, people think that I am Mexican.”

“What do you mean?” asks Carolyn.

“Our neighbor across the greenbelt asked me to tell the gardeners ‘in Mexican’ that they keep forgetting to trim the hedge. When I said, ‘I don’t speak Spanish,’ she was shocked.”

Carolyn and Matt both laugh.

“Then I told her that I am not from Mexico and she looked really confused. ‘I’m from Iran,’ I said, and she goes, ‘Oh that’s nice.'”

“I think seh probably meant, ‘Oh no! Not that scary country with the bearded guy!'” says Matt.

I laugh.

“Stop feeding the beast with your laughter,” Carolyn warns.

“But that was funny,” I say. “Another time, Mrs Harris, who lives two doors down from us, asked me if I could tell her window washer, Jesus, not to come next week. I told her that I only know how to say lavar los manos, por favor, buenos dias, and muchas gracias. Do you know what she said? ‘It’s a pity you have forgotten your Spanish.'” I roll my eyes.

So yeah, this book has it all. The funnies, social commentary, a little bit of romance, and a lot of heart. Totally wholly recommended.