Home is a Stranger

September 1, 2019

Unmoored by the death of her father and dis­en­chant­ed by the Amer­i­can dream, Par­naz Foroutan leaves Los Ange­les for Iran nine­teen years after her fam­i­ly fled the reli­gious police state brought in by the Islam­ic theoc­ra­cy. From the moment Par­naz steps off the plane in Tehran, she con­tends with a world she only par­tial­ly under­stands. Strug­gling with her own iden­ti­ty in a cul­ture that feels both for­eign and famil­iar, she tries to find a place for her­self between the Amer­i­can girl she is and the woman she hopes to become. Writ­ten with the same lit­er­ary grace and pas­sion as her fic­tion, Home Is a Stranger is a mem­oir about the mean­ing of desire, the tran­scen­dence of bound­aries, and the jour­ney to find home.

Discussion Questions

    Cour­tesy of Par­naz Foroutan

  1. In what way does Behrooz dis­rupt the nar­ra­tive of strife between the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion and the Jew­ish minor­i­ty in Iran? 

  2. How is Parnaz’s under­stand­ing of Iran informed as a child refugee in Amer­i­ca? How does this per­cep­tion change once she returns to Iran as an adult? 

  3. In what way does the depic­tion of Iran in this sto­ry dif­fer from the nar­ra­tives of Iran you have encoun­tered through oth­er sources? 

  4. In what way does the por­tray­al of the Afghani refugees in this sto­ry dif­fer from the per­cep­tion of the Afghani peo­ple Amer­i­cans held dur­ing Sep­tem­ber 11th? How does this relate to the per­cep­tion of refugees in the cur­rent glob­al refugee crisis? 

  5. Par­naz writes about hav­ing a tran­scen­dent spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence fol­low­ing her father’s death and how her eyes opened to the exis­tence of the sub­lime in plain view. In what way have you expe­ri­enced sub­lim­i­ty? Does it take tragedy for our eyes to open? 

  6. How is desire defined by the sto­ry of the Gold­en Fish­er­man? What role does for­bid­dance play in respect to desire? What role does the prox­im­i­ty of death play? 

  7. In her jour­ney trekking through Iran, Par­naz writes that she wants to tear up the map [she] had been giv­en in Amer­i­ca, for­go the ease, the secu­ri­ty, the sta­bil­i­ty of all that and live, instead, in the wilder­ness of those moun­tains in North­ern Iran”. What in par­tic­u­lar does Par­naz find con­fin­ing about life in Amer­i­ca, and how does she imag­ine liv­ing in a vil­lage in Iran would offer a solution? 

  8. How does the sto­ry of the Zoroas­tri­an tem­ple of Chak Chak, where Par­naz meets the sage, defy what read­ers in the West under­stand as the spir­i­tu­al bound­aries between the liv­ing and the dead? How do you read this experience? 

  9. What does Par­naz go to Iran seek­ing? Does she find it? 

  10. This sto­ry is writ­ten as an homage to youth, from the point of view of an old­er adult woman look­ing back at her younger self. In what way has your own per­cep­tion of self shift­ed through time? How do you relate to your younger self?