Kazem begins working for the NIOC (National Iranian Oil Company) at the age of seventeen. He continues with the company for many years, but after the Iranian Revolution, his world “turned upside down.” No more refineries are built in Iran, and so Kazem is soon out of a job in California. The company offers him work in Iran, but Kazem refuses. He finds an engineering job with an American company, but shortly after “a group of Americans in Tehran were taken hostage in the American embassy,” he’s laid off.
In this chapter, Kazem faces a steep uptick in prejudice: suddenly (and, in all probability, illegally), he’s fired from his job. It’s strongly implied that he’s fired because of hostility to Iranians, and Middle Easterners in general, in the tense atmosphere surrounding the Hostage Crisis. During this period, Iranian revolutionaries took American hostages and demanded, among other things, that the U.S. government return the Shah (who’d come to the U.S. for medical treatment) to Iran to stand trial.
For 444 nights, Firoozeh and her family watch TV, waiting for new developments in the Iran Hostage Crisis. In the meantime, Kazem’s pension is cut off, and he finds himself unemployed at fifty-eight. Nobody in American wants to hire an Iranian. He is forced to sell the family house for a tenth of its value. Iranian-Americans are among the most educated, hardest-working immigrants in the country. Kazem loves America, and is thankful that he has the right to vote. And yet he is treated like a second-class citizen.
The Hostage Crisis provokes a lot of hostility toward Iranian-Americans, and as a result, Kazem—a talented engineer who bears zero hostility toward the U.S.—is prevented from finding work. As Kazem’s ordeal shows, immigrants are often treated as scapegoats for their country’s faults—even though, almost by definition, the people who choose to leave their country often aren’t representative of their country’s politics at all.
Kazem continues to look for work. Eventually, he finds work with a Saudi petroleum company. This is far from ideal, but he has no choice—he’s already lost his money. He accepts an executive position, but is later denied the job—he’s told that the Saudi government won’t allow Iranians to enter the country. Next, Kazem tries to work for a Nigerian oil company. He’s given a huge salary—it almost seems too good to be true. After a few weeks, Kazem learns that the company is a scam, run by a con man who’s already been deported from the U.S. After 444 days, the hostages are freed. Shortly afterwards, Kazem finds a job as a senior engineer with an American company. His salary is lower than what it was before the Revolution, but he’s happy to be working. He never complained during his job ordeal—instead, he remained “an Iranian who loved his native country but who also believed in American ideals.”
This poignant passage captures Kazem’s struggle to find work. Firoozeh emphasizes that Kazem retains his love for America and American ideals throughout his period of systematic discrimination. By ending the chapter in this way, Firoozeh creates a sad but cautiously optimistic mood, suggesting that, while America has its share of discrimination and prejudice, the nation itself is tolerant and idealistic, and gives immigrants opportunities for advancement. Of course, one could also disagree with Kazem’s opinion and argue that a fundamental “American value” has always been racism and discrimination.