Acting English

A Beginner's Guide to Acting English by Shappi Khorsandi is a wonderful book. I knew Ms Khorsandi from her appearances on various UK satirical comedy shows such as Mock the week and Have I got news for you? I also had a vague recollection that her love for satire was inherited from her father, who was an Iranian dissident. “Beginner’s guide to acting English” fills in all of this background; and what a terrifying and comic story it is.

Shappi was born into a close knit, happy family in Tehran during the last years of the Shah’s reign. Her father, Hadi, was a very successful writer and worked on a newspaper. As well as her own small family – there was just Shappi and an older brother Peyvand, there was a much bigger extended family with numerous cousins, aunties and uncles, and hundreds of friends, who always seemed to be at Shappi’s house partying with her parents. At the age of three, Shappi moved to England. Change was in the air in Iran, and some of her father’s writings had not been too popular in the Shah’s circle, so a temporary move to London beckoned. At first life was much as it had been in Iran, the Khorsandis quickly settled into the Iranian expat community, and much of this early time is richly comic as Shappi starts to learn “how to act English” dealing with the intricacies of a proper English packed lunch and settling into school.

With the downfall of the Shah it looked as though the family were about to return to Iran but Hadi had offended the Mullahs, and orders were placed directly from Ayatollah Khomeini to assassinate him. So begins a terrifying sequence of events during which time the children answer the phone to hear death threats against their father, regular bomb checks have to be made of their car (although neither Shappi or her Dad are too sure what a bomb looks like – is it round with a fuse and “Bomb!” painted on the side?), the family are even whisked away by Scotland Yard into hiding following a “serious” threat.

By turns comic, tragic and deeply moving, this is a wonderful book. It shows very clearly both the good and the evil that humanity is capable of. The evil ravings down the phone line to a scared 9 year old girl (I can’t even begin to imagine how someone could do that) contrast with the amazing love and loyalty of Hadi’s friends, who rally round when he is forced into hiding, courageously providing food, friendship, love and support. The racism that Shappi and her brother are victims of is also contrasted with the kindness and good sense of others. And throughout the book there is the difference between living in a free state at peace with what Shappi’s extended family are having to endure in Tehran.

So this is a book about terror and racism and the difficulties of being an immigrant but much more than this it is a book about family, loyalty and friendship. It celebrates all that is really good about being Iranian, and about being British. It is a book about love and loyalty and all that is positive about being human. Do read – it’s inspiring.


Popular Posts