Let me be clear that Valenti’s memoir is a good one; it is honest and vulnerable, timely and insightful, and she has a clear, precise style that I enjoy. It’s just that there is literally nothing in it for me to relate to. Valenti’s formative experiences are as opposite from mine as it is possible to be for two white girls born in the United States at approximately the same time.
Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, by Firoozeh Dumas. This book is an object lesson in the importance of book titling and marketing. Funny in Farsi was billed as Humor, when it should have been billed as simply Memoir. There were humorous moments, sure, but I kept expecting some David Sedaris-style gut-busting, and it never happened. The book is interesting on its own, however, and I wouldn’t have been disappointed if my expectations had been set according to what the book actually was. Also, a major failure on the part of Dumas’ editors: the title. Dumas uses the term “Persian” throughout the book and never once uses the word “Farsi.” It wasn’t until writing this review that I looked it up and learned it is the most widely spoken form of the Persian language. Considering Dumas was purposefully writing for an audience of idiot Americans who couldn’t find Iran on a map, even with help, this is honestly an inexcusable oversight. Additionally, the title doesn’t really make sense with the narrative. Is there something funny about the Persian/Farsi language itself? Some amusing anecdote about a misunderstood translation? Something that happened in Dumas’ life that would have been funny back home in Iran, but wasn’t in the West? Or something that was funny in Persian but fell flat in translation to English? I read the whole book, and I still don’t know. If you have a good title, but it doesn’t relate to the book, then it’s not a good title.
Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-gazer, by Sena Jeter Naslund. This book is…interesting. Mostly, it’s Moby Dick. And by that, I mean it is long. (So long! Ridiculously long! Insanely long! A HUNDRED AND TWENTY FOUR PAGES LONGER THAN MOBY DICK, LONG.) It is also in that Melville style of flowery, descriptive prose that must describe each and every feeling as well as observation. (In the hands of a lesser writer *cough, James Fenimore Cooper, cough* this style is tedious in the extreme. In the hands of Melville, it’s glory. Naslund is somewhere in the middle, though closer to Melville than a hack, I will grant.) That’s about 80% of the book: Moby Dick-ian in style and length, and topic, too. The next 10% is completely extraneous, totally random, absolutely useless-to-the-narrative namedropping nonsense (and that’s really saying something, considering how much of Moby Dick/Ahab’s Wife is ornate description that can be stripped down or removed entirely without losing much of anything from the story). Apparently Naslund wants us to know that she studied American literary history. The last 10% is utterly batshit. I mean, some truly random, very weird, wait-did-this-suddenly-turn-into-a-sci-fi-book-type stuff.
You wanna know what the book is about? I’ll tell you, because that is partly what’s batshit: a girl disguises herself as a boy and runs away to go a-whaling because, whim? Whereupon we have the second half of Moby Dick – the chase, the try pots, and then, the ship is stove by a whale and everybody dies. Except our girl and two boys whom she loves. They ate everyone else in their whaleboat adrift in the Pacific, and moments before their own death are picked up by a merchant vessel. Upon physical recovery, one of the boys throws himself into the sea because grief, I guess? Next day, the Pequod comes across their vessel and takes our girl and her boy-by-default aboard to bring them home to Nantucket. Ahab marries the girl to the boy the moment they set foot upon his deck, whereupon the boy becomes mad. Once they arrive home, his madness deepens and he deserts our girl. She marries Ahab the day she learns of the boy’s desertion. Ahab leaves and Moby Dick happens. Ishmael makes it back, tho, so our girl marries him, then. The end!