When I read an unusually profound, honest or clever book, I usually develop something that might be called a 'writer's crush.' This has nothing to do with gender or romantic feelings, of course, but purely with the person I meet in the pages of a book. I'm attracted to creative voices. The ways in which authors and artists express ideas, stories of the inner workings of someone else, or who they are personally. I find myself wanting to know these authors in real life, to sit down with them over a cup of tea or coffee, or follow them around for a day. I imagine we might be friends, if we met, though I immediately feel self-conscious, aware that my life and conversation may not be as eloquent or clever as theirs.
Writers are a funny breed.
Just this morning, with a sense of sadness and satisfaction, I said goodbye to a new author friend, Firoozeh Dumas. She's from Iran, and I think she made me laugh aloud to myself, echoing off the walls of our apartment living room, on the bus, or in a coffee shop, more than any other writer. From her first chapter, more like a preface, I was hooked by her voice. Over two-hundred pages later, I felt like she offered me a glimpse inside her home, from growing up in Iran to becoming Iranian-American. I laughed with her as she regaled me with stories of her crazy, endearing family. I desperately wanted to meet her dad and mom in person. I felt a quiet appreciation for her warm and humorous way of cracking jokes about Persian culture, American culture, Muslim culture, her family and herself, which she did with a solid sense of respect and awareness of the flaws and beauty of each. By the end of the book, I knew if she ever showed up in Seattle to speak, I'd be there if I could, even if it was at a graduation or some kooky Mandala society (I guess you need to read her book to know what I'm talking about).
It's writers like Firoozeh that gently open my eyes, a little wider, or shut them in laughter while squeezing tears from the corners, and help me to know how alike we are, even coming from different countries, cultures, ethnicities, languages and religions. We're really not that different.
In her preface, she shared that in order to have her book translated and published in Iran, she had to run it through a censor. Sadly, an entire chapter was omitted from her book - one that I would have loved to read - called, "The Ham Amendment." But even how she wrote about her father's reaction to the censor delighted me:
In that chapter, which I considered the soul of my book, I explained my father's philosophy that it does not matter what we eat or whether we are Muslim, Christian or Jewish; it's how we treat our fellow man that counts. The censor did not agree.
When I told my father about the removal of that particular chapter, he was every upset. He said it was probably because the censor did not believe in shared humanity, at least not with Jews. My father also added that my next book should be entitled, "Accomplishments of Jews I Have Known," interspersed with recipes using ham.
By the end of her book, I felt I found a new friend, or at least, hoped I'd be worthy of a friend like her. In her closing chapter she talked about a good friend of hers, a Christian woman who was one of the hostages held in Tehran in 1979 for four hundred and forty-four days, describing her as one "who believes in the Bible but also leaves room for other cultures to believe differently." She spoke of this woman with a deep respect. Her graciousness left my heart aching a bit. Here is the first Muslim author I have read, to be completely honest, and I have yet to read a Christian author who has conveyed this kind of friendship with a Muslim. I'm not saying these books don't exist, simply that I haven't read one yet and it was humbling and refreshing to read about life - and a respected Christian friend - from Firoozeh's perspective.
I can only speak from my limited perspective as a certain kind of Christian, but it seems that on whole in the U.S., the perception (and maybe reality) is that Christians are intimidated or threatened by the presence of the 'Other.' Particularly Muslims. And maybe all we know of Muslims is the severely limited, negative slant of what we've seen on the news: terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, Taliban abuse of women in Afghanistan. Maybe we've never met someone like Firoozeh Dumas. I think for Christians, she needs to be required reading - a small step toward not being afraid of our neighbors, and even, learning that we could really enjoy being friends.
Thank you, Firoozeh. I'm glad I met you.
* Joining the community of Just Write today, over at Heather King's blog...