Monday, 6 July 2009

Shappi Khorsandi - A Beginner's Guide to Acting English (Ebury 2009)

Look ma, a celebrity autobiography worth reading? Shock-a-rama... except this breakout memoir by comedienne Shappi Khorsandi has been what’s tipped her over the edge into the public eye, eyeing up appearances on Jonathan Ross and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow. Instead of gracing the mirthless bowels of Radio 4 comedy, Shappi Khorsandi will now hopefully be commanding more high profile gigs based on this book. The memoir, documenting her arrival and early to teen years in the UK trying to fit in, shows she can write too. More poignant than laugh-out-loud funny, more tragic and beautiful than punchline-punchline-punchline, the book approaches the immigrant experience with a fresh yet familiar take, using a backdrop of England and classic Englishisms to tell a story about inherently Irani protagonists. Khorsandi discusses her first years at an English primary school, speaking not a word of the language, using her brother and other silent immigrants as emotional crutches, while occupying a fantasyland of make-believe and imagination at home, hero-worshipping her father and trying to teach her mother more English things. She talks about how English slowly crept up on her, through rhymes and stories before becoming her normal vernacular, how she went from being frightened of the English to scolding her mum for not being able to make her jam sandwiches. The centre of her attention is her father and his political leanings. While Iran undergoes some major changes, her father, a satirist and journalist and poet- hero-worshipped by the Irani community of London, meaning endless social engagements, debates and performances in front rooms- documents the changes, the fall of the Shah, the rise of the Ayatollah, the revolution and its divisive nature, as middle and upper class London-dwelling Iranis put their tuppence in. Meanwhile Khorsandi’s family in Iran feel the effects and impacts the changes in power structures have on their well-being. ‘Persepolis’ dealt with similar topics and told them from the same spiky brutally honest angle; here, the crucial difference is the journey that Khorsandi and her brother make towards accepting their present surroundings and how it impacts on their cultural identity, something easily identifiable for a generation of Diaspora immigrants in this country. This most tense and interesting section of the book, where men are dispatched by the new government to assassinate Khorsandi’s father. This section arrives in the second half of the book and is by far its most exciting bit. The writing teams with compassion and warmth, the humour in the situations and characters is sweetly scathing, the differences between Irani and English customs played out to great comic effect, and the sincerity in the prose, the unflowery honest writing makes it a strong memoir with its lightness of touch and comic timing.

No comments: