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Farangi Girl

Sandra Heath's review

May 29, 2016 ·

it was amazing

Read on May 27, 2016

I loved this memoir by Ashley Dartnell: "Farangi Girl, a memoir of my mother, parties with princes and growing up in Iran." I am always reading books about Iran because I lived there as a military brat in the 1970s. Somehow I googled this book and was intrigued. I ordered the hardback copy at half price and was immediately impressed with its sophisticated cover when it came in the mail. The photograph of what looked like the dashboard of a classic British car evoked a feeling of romance and old-fashionedness: a classy, hopeful woman in white-leather driving gloves holding onto a pair of brightly colored sunglasses, driving to some adventure, with attitude perhaps (?), a blurred, dust-covered mountain hardly visible through the windshield. Iran? The cover gripped me, but then there was the young girl at the center of this memoir and her evocative writing: "Behind us, I could see cars and trucks strung like colorful beads around the mountain ... With a scowl, the driver hurled the remaining melons down the slope where they burst in a ragged explosion of scarlet ... My father wrestled our old grey Rover around one hairpin road after another ... ". The author was speaking about the winding road to and from Chaloos, on the Caspian Sea. The author's descriptions about her lively, beautiful mother who would break men's hearts and lose bits of herself doing it, and her children's place in all of this, broke my heart also, as did descriptions of her father's inability to provide for his wife and his children emotionally and financially. The odd relationships were described so perfectly and with humor: like in one chapter when Ashley is staying with her mother's poor family in Connecticut, in what was a sabbatical from Iran: "Granny ordered as we made slow progress up the long incline. She called hello to the people sitting on their porches and as soon as we passed she said things like, 'Retarded child,' or 'Husband killed himself. Hanged himself, disgusting old fool,' or 'Stupid woman . Dog barks.'" I loved how Ashley Dartnell reacted to New York City initially while seeing it for the first time after having been born and raised in Iran for nine years, almost my reaction to Iran when I saw it first! Ironically Ashley thought America was unusual, though in Iran her father spent long days on the job and the family was left alone in the desert in substandard housing with little food and sleeping mats on the floor, her mother incessantly smoking, school not considered a priority by anyone but Ashley. By the end of the book I was exhausted by the emotion I felt for the children, but glad to see how Ashley wisened up to the unflattering (well, ugly) characteristics of her mostly self-absorbed parents, but choosing to accept and love them anyway, and allowing some of their loving, good characteristics to flower out of the bad. For those who enjoyed Argo, the book allows one to experience a bit of Iran before the Iranian Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s when the Shah was in power, some of Iran during the revolution, and then afterward, and explain some of the reasons that prompted it. But ultimately, it's about children adapting to their parents' good and bad choices because they have to. Two things are for certain, the author takes the reader on a vivid, emotional odyssey and the author's affection for Iran is profound: "I awakened to the sound of roosters crowing. I sat up. 'Mom, wake up! Listen!' Outside, horns blared and donkeys brayed. I was hungry and thirsty and I desperately needed to go to the bathroom, but these sounds had taken me straight back to my childhood and I was bubbling over with joy. I was home! Home to an Iran as warm as a ripe cantaloupe in the hot sun, an Iran where friendly people offered legendary hospitality, an Iran where you wake up to the sound of sheep baaing and men hammering, an Iran where plates were filled with bounds of fluffy white rice, slick with butter and redolent with the charbroiled smell of kebab. Now, despite the long uncertain wait at the airport, despite the grotty hotel, despite everything, these sounds clicked into a place in my head, like a key that fit perfectly into a lock, and welcomed me back to the land of my birth. I was home to Iran." I loved this book!! Sandra Ann Heath

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