road-homeWidowed and jobless, Lev immigrates from Eastern Europe to London in hopes of finding work and a better future for his daughter in The Road Home by Rose Tremain. What he encounters there – friendship, cruelty, kindness, hardship and hope – becomes a snapshot of the world we live in today.

Arriving in London with just basic English language skills, minimum money and an EU passport, Lev finds a menial job washing dishes at a high-end restaurant where he discovers a passion and a talent for cooking. Lev makes some mistakes along the way – he doesn’t always do the right thing – but he is always sympathetic and likeable and you’ll find yourself pulling for him.

You’ll also meet some wonderful characters – Rudi, Lev’s colorful and outspoken but forever loyal friend from home, Christy, his down-on-his-luck Irish flatmate, Sophie, the English woman he has a passionate affair with, G.K., his gruff, rude yet ultimately life-saving boss, the people at the nursing home he visits and his fellow workers. From these wildly different parts he creates a family that sustain and guide him, yet there is always an undercurrent of sadness and longing for home. How Lev finds his way home again, both literally and figuratively, are the heart of the story. Although the ending is somewhat contrived, it is also exactly right.

miles-from-nowhereUnlike James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, the author clearly marks this as a work of fiction.  Still, I found myself studying her photograph, wondering just how much of the story she might have actually experienced herself.  That’s how real it felt.

In this gritty and sometimes sordid tale about the homeless and the addicted, we follow Joon-Mee through her teen years during the 1980’s in New York City in Miles from Nowhere.  Joon, an immigrant from Korea, leaves her troubled home and ends up on the street, falling into prostitution and heroin abuse.  All is not dreary, though, as the book has a hopeful ending.  In the words of  Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl, this is a “starkly beautiful book, shot through with grace and lit by an offhand street poetry.  Nami Mun takes a cast of junkies and runaways and brings them fiercely and frankly to life.  It’s a measure of the artistry of the work that even in their grimmest, darkest moments, rather than being repelled by these characters, we want to stay beside them, as if to care for them, or at least bear witness to their lives. “

I’m reading the funniest book! It’s called Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. I picked it up at the last Women’s Connection (TWC) meeting, but the library does have copies at both buildings. Dumas, an Iranian-American, is the featured speaker at the November 5 TWC meeting, when the group traditionally hosts an international author. If you can go, do — but be prepared for some belly laughs!

This book is laugh-out-loud funny. There’s one scene in particular, in which the author describes a time she is waiting in a crowded medical clinic, when the receptionist mispronounces her name. Badly mispronounces it! Now with a first name like “Firoozeh,” you would probably expect some of this, but in this case, both her first and last name (her husband is French) are really butchered.

The author freely admits that her first experience in the United States, at the tender age of seven, was a very favorable one, and that people were very kind to her and her family. She’s quick to note, however, that this was before the hostage takeover of the embassy in Iran, and that later Iranian immigrants often faced open hostility.

There are lots of anecdotes that many can identify with — her father attempting to teach her how to swim, her not-so-fun experience at summer camp, and the seemingly endless supply of relatives coming to visit. More importantly, though, this book goes a long way in gently educating us Americans that Iranians are human, too. Not to mention funny.

Dumas has also written Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American at Home and Abroad. Enjoy!