Shappi Khorsandi is an Iranian born comedian who is quite well known here in the UK due to her performances on Live At The Apollo and as a panellist on shows such as 8 out of 10 Cats. A Beginners Guide To Acting English is a memoir of her childhood during the Iranian revolution. The family originally left Iran as her father had a job opportunity in London, but when he later tries to return after the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini, he only just manages to escape with his life. Unable to go home, the family must come to terms with becoming refugees and getting used to the English way of life.
A Beginners Guide To Acting English is a well written memoir. It is written with a light and humorous touch, which make the occasional 'heavy' moments more profound. Stories of learning English and getting to grips with English food are interspersed with worry about family members left in Iran and the constant fear that Shappi's father will be targeted by radicals, even in London. The emotional anchor of the book is really the later sections in which the family must enter police protection for a time to keep them safe. Shappi describes the all-consuming fear she felt realistically and also manages to do so from the point of view of the child she was at the time, who didn't really understand everything that was going on.
That said, there were things about A Beginners Guide To Acting English that didn't work as well. Whilst I thought it was interesting to read about family members left in Iran, Shappi's technique of writing them in the first person didn't really work. All these other family members ended up speaking in the same voice, which dulled any impact they might have had in the memoir. I also think the title is a bit misleading; there wasn't too much about the culture shock of moving to England, and more about events in Iran and lives of other Iranians in exile. I did find this interesting, but the title does lead you to think this memoir is about things it isn't.
Overall, this was an average memoir. It passed the time nicely but I probably wouldn't recommend it to others. For me, Persepolis is a much better memoir of the Iranian revolution and life in exile.
First Published: 2009
Score: 3 out of 5