Shared Humanity

February 3, 2014
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"Laughing Without an Accent" by Firoozeh Dumas

Behind the blinding curtains that strictly display the differences between people, are people who are similar to one another, regardless of nationality, culture, religion or race. In this novel Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas, the idea of “shared humanity” constantly reoccurs as she allows us to divulge into her life experiences as a foreigner. Her stories are humorous and interesting and her style of writing is succinct and fun to read. From being a child in Iran to attending college in America, she proves to us that people of different nationalities and cultures are more similar to us than different by sharing personal anecdotes that feel relatable to us.

When differences such as race, nationality, culture or any other identifiable aspects are put aside, there is family. Family is not only such a huge part of this book but it is also a huge part of people’s lives throughout the world. Although some families are not as together as others, they are always there. Many chapters in this book display family life for Dumas. In the chapter, “My Achilles’ Meal”, Dumas is still very young but talks about an experience she had when her Grandmother passed away. Since she was only six and was not aware of what death was and so her family kept it from her. In my childhood I was faced with a situation that was similar when my grandmother passed away. I was not really sure why everyone was so upset, but I knew something was wrong so I kept to myself similarly to Firoozeh when she says, “They needed to be sad, I knew that much.” As the chapter progresses she talks about her experience spending the day with Aunt Peacock, an old lady who lived in her cousin’s house. Aunt Peacock was ecstatic to have little Firoozeh there and began to cook as many French fries as she wanted until she ate too many. “We are people who feed people,” Firoozeh states about her culture. Even all the way across the world in Iran, this old woman was happy to treat this little girl like a princess since that was all she knew how to do. This says a lot about how similar their culture is to my own Italian heritage. In my family, my grandma used to call me her little prince.
She would prepare my favorite foods, then whisper in my ear, “open your hand behind your back so mom won’t see,” and she would hand me a piece of candy with 5 dollars. I can see the same idea when Aunt Peacock watched Firoozeh for the day.

As we all know, with family come good days and bad days. In the chapter “His and Hers,” Dumas tells a story about an experience she and her family had while living in America with a clearance sale at a furniture store. Before the story begins Dumas prefaces that one thing that really excites her father is a clearance sale. This story is not only humorous but also a perfect example of how her family of a different descent is so similar to people in America. Dumas and her father set out to a furniture store to buy items whose prices are marked down significantly. After an epic journey to get the pieces of furniture home from the store and into the house, the purchases are ultimately not worth the effort. Her father, jumped at an opportunity to save money and ended up wasting money on useless pieces. Firoozeh’s father did everything he could to save that extra dollar even if it involved getting a ticket and destroying the walls in his home. The idea that a sale does not always work out as planned is very American.

In contrast though, the book discusses a chapter where the idea of shared humanity does not always work out. In the chapter, “Twas the Fight Before Christmas,” Firoozeh’s now husband, Francois, decided to invite over her family to share Christmas Eve dinner together. This chapter not only had me laughing because of how well I could visualize Dumas’ writing in my head, but also was the first time in the book that there were differences between cultures being depicted rather than the similarities that we don’t always expect. This section seemed like it was straight out of a movie scene. During this chapter we see dialogue between Firoozeh and her mother that clearly shows the difference between cultures and also provides for a humorous night. This dinner was very important to Francois, but it didn’t really go as planned since these new foods offered to Dumas’ parents were followed with comments like, “Vat eez een dees?” and “Eez good” (followed by Persian comments about how they cannot eat this food). I felt bad for Francois mostly but it really showed how difficult it could be for some people to adapt to a culture other than their own. It is focused on even more as the chapter comes to an end and Francois finds his dessert that he worked so hard on, ruined by Dumas’ parents who follow by saying, “The inside is the best part!”

Firoozeh’s description of the focused idea of, “shared humanity,” is depicted through her interesting style of writing and humorous stories. She helps us, as readers understand that people, regardless of differences such as race, nationality or culture people are very similar to each other even though there are differences. Her travels and anecdotes are something worth sharing and provide the reader an open-minded perspective of “shared humanity”. I highly recommend reading this book it's entertaining at the same time thought provoking.

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