Firoozeh’s family came from Iran to America shortly before the Iranian Revolution. Before the mid-seventies, many Americans hadn’t even heard of Iran. Iran, Firoozeh admits, is a small country. But children in California have strange ideas about Iran: they ask Firoozeh about the camels and sand in her country. Kazem likes to lecture strangers on the history of petroleum in Iran. Once, an American told him that he knew about Iran from watching Lawrence of Arabia.
The Iranian Revolution, during which Shia clerics orchestrated a newly theocratic government, prompted new hostilities between America and Iran. Previously, Firoozeh suggests, many Americans perceived Iran in a condescending or ignorant, but not actively hostile way.
In school, a boy annoys Firoozeh with questions about the camels in Iran. One day, Firoozeh gives in and tells the boy what he clearly wants to hear: Iranians have camels, which they keep in a garage. Sometimes, the students ask Firoozeh to teach them dirty words in Persian. Eventually, Firoozeh teaches the students how to say, “I’m an idiot” in Persian—and so they run around the playground, shouting, “I’m an idiot” at the top of their lungs.
Once again, Firoozeh plays the part of a mature adult, wearily giving in to the children’s questions. However, she gets her revenge by tricking the other children into yelling about their own ignorance—in a way, proving herself to herself.
After two years in California, it’s time for Firoozeh’s family to return to Iran. At first, Firoozeh assumes Nazireh will be happy to return to her own country, where she can understand the language. But then she realizes that her mother is going to miss the Americans in her life. Even if she can’t understand their language, she misses their kindness and generosity.
It’s interesting that every single member of Firoozeh’s immediate family loves America (in many books about immigrants, there’s at least one character who’s strongly critical of the U.S.).
Firoozeh often thinks back to her early days in America. Later generations of Iranians, including some of Firoozeh’s own relatives, experience a different kind of America in which people have bumper stickers saying, “Iranians: Go Home.” Americans don’t strike them as being kind at all.
Firoozeh suggests that, following the Iranian Revolution, Americans become increasingly bigoted and hostile to Iranians. It’s worth keeping in mind that the book was published at the height of the “War on Terror,” when bigotry against Middle Easterners in America surged in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Firoozeh seems to be reminding readers of what she sees as America’s friendly, inviting nature—from which its more recent xenophobia is (in her view) a tragic deviation.