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Femme Bookend: Welcome relief of Iranian humour

STAND-UP COMEDIAN, RIGHT?

Yeah — gorgeous Iranian with jokes about being from Iran: “When I say my body clock’s ticking, my friends all hit the floor.”

BUT TOUGH TIMES?

In A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English, Shappi Khorsandi tells the story of her family’s emigration to England — her father Hadi, also a satirist, wasn’t flavour of the month with the Shah, and they fled Iran.

IT’S ALL SET IN ENGLAND THEN?

No, it starts out in Iran. Shappi’s mam was university educated — but her grandma told her of being married at 13, and her mother had been married at nine.

FORM MARRIAGE, REALLY?

Nope. When the little girl didn’t want to have sex, her mother-inlaw tied her to the bed so her husband could rape her.

LUCKY SHAPPI’S LOT WENT WEST!

Yyyes . . . Except that the Ayatollah Khomeini — who didn’t like cartoons about him any more than the Shah had — sent killers to get him, and Shappi grew up with death threats.

THIS SOUNDS DARK!

Don’t worry — this is a brilliant book, funny and warm and charming. Shappi starts in Iran, seen in the golden light of childhood memory, the place where love comes from, and there are mouthwatering descriptions of food — lamb with aubergine and yogurt, spicy, herby scents. It’s the most fattening book you’ll read all summer.

WHAT ABOUT ENGLAND?

Shappi’s funny about English schools. Shappi and her brother Peyvand — the boldest boy for miles around — couldn’t be angels in the nativity play, but played shepherds instead because “you’re lovely and dark”.

HMM . . .

She’s got a wicked eye for the language and behaviour of bullies.

AND THE FAMILY BACK IN IRAN?

On the phone to Iran, little Shappi asks her fat old grandma: “Have they made you wear a hejab so that men won’t look at you?” Maman Shamsi says: “Yes. And thank goodness for that. I was getting so tired of handsome young men flirting with me all the time.”

HEH — SOUNDS GREAT

Brave, funny, cheering — the very book we need right now.


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