Monday 26 October 2009

A Beginner's Guide To Acting English - Shappi Khorsandi

"When you're young, just growing up seems hard enough. But if you've been shipped to a new country and you don't speak a word of the language, it's even harder. And if the Ayatollah wants you and your family dead, then that's when it gets really tricky ...". It sounds like a cracking plot for a novel, but this is the tale of Shappi Khorsandi's real life !

I was born in 1972, just a year before Shappi, so we share many of the same childhood memories. I smiled nostalgically many times as she recalled things I'd forgotten, like kiss chase, two-ball, Dangermouse, Saturday morning kids TV and the little bottles of school milk with their foil tops and blue straws. But in other ways, our childhoods were very different - her parents maintained some of their "Irooni" ways and Shappi, and her brother, had to convince their mum to give them spongy white bread triangles with yellow cheese instead of elaborate rice dishes in their lunchboxes so they could be like everyone else ! As a mum of bilingual kids, it was interesting to see the mixed-race child's viewpoint, although our family's English/French dual nationality is a lot less "culturally schizophrenic" than Shappi's Iranian/English mish-mash !

When the Islamic Revolution blows up and Shappi's father, a famous Iranian writer, continues to write satirical jokes about the new regime, he ends up on the Ayatollah Khomeini's hit-list and the family are warned to check their car for car-bombs on a daily basis. The wide-eyed innocence and charmingly naive viewpoint of the child narrator are very poignant, as she relates tales of war, torture and terror back home in Iran. When she learns of her young uncle being tortured so badly that his hair turns white, she discusses with her brother the worst possible form of torture they can think of - having someone wave their arm covered in snails in your face when you're scared of snails. You can't help but crack a wry smile.

I was only young at the time, so although the name of the Ayatollah is familiar to me, I was totally unaware of the events in Iran. Tales of a 9-year-old girl being flogged for showing her hair and a woman being given acid-soaked tissues by the moral police to remove her lipstick are chilling.

Despite the horrors in Iran and the terror of being on the wanted list in England, the book is light-hearted and positive. Shappi's dad refuses to stop writing and life goes on so the central themes are survival and keeping together as a family. It's heart-warming and endearing.

Shappi Khorsandi is now famous in her own right as a stand-up comedian and appears regularly on TV and the radio. I was unaware of this when reading the book so my enjoyment is based on its own merit, not the media "celeb book" hype !

star rating : 5/5

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Ebury Press (2 Jul 2009)
ISBN-10: 0091922925
ISBN-13: 978-0091922924

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