For Khakpour, as we see in Brown Album, her final cry of an essay whose title comes from an album of old photographs that her parents kept, race is at the center of who she is. It is her obsession ... Even her parents, who now identify as Caucasian, wish she’d drop the subject ... Now, in the era of Trump, she witnesses acts of white supremacy and feels she is the butt of racist comments by acquaintances with whom she is staying while trying to recover from an unknown toxicity at the end of 2017 ... But Khakpour is not one to capitulate. This book itself is evidence of the strength of her spirit. In the introduction she states that these essays 'are a testament to the greatest and worst experiences of my life,' and that '[m]uch of this book was written in tears.' The result is a collection that is by turns raw and wry, witty, and heartbreaking. Above all, it is a fearless reflection of an immigrant searching for home and for herself.
The pieces wrestle with ideas and inner conflicts, but they also tell candid stories about immigration, illness, whiteness, and the writer’s life ... Throughout, she documents her survival of white America as a Iranian American; yet, Khakpour seems to ask on every page: Is this all survival is? ... Emotions of sorrow, anger, and anxiety loom large in Khakpour’s inner and outer experiences in America, but the humor in her reflections keep this book immune from wallowing. A triumphant entry in the personal essay canon.
Khakpour's work is correction and visibility: about centering the brownness that has been erased from this literary cultural analysis — and accompanying conversations ... There is a refreshing anger, at times, in these pages and rightfully so ... Within this anger there is a risk, and an accompanying bravery ... This is not to say that there is only one tone in Khakpour's collection of essays ... Khakpour, with bitingly cleverness, depicts the classism, microaggressions and loneliness in being one of a handful of P.O.C. at an elite liberal arts school ... Throughout the collection, the figure of Los Angeles becomes a palpable breathing character ... Khakpour's narrative work is strongest when she turns the lens on herself to do the self-critical work of examining how she, too, is complicit; it is less convincing — verging on judgmental — when she turns her critical lens solely on others. Thus, at times, Khakpour's usually sophisticated understanding of race and class appears problematic: There is a lack of interrogation about her own privilege in America ... Additionally, Khakpour here continues the tradition of non-black people of color appropriating blackness as Brown Album itself conveys a lack of interrogation about her own adoption of hip-hop music, AAVE, braids, 'passing' for black and co-opting her black boyfriend's experience of blackness; there is also the confusing choice to project onto white people racist comments solely from Khakpour's imagination ... many of these previously published essays, written for shorter venues, are just too tantalizingly brief to allow Khakpour space to do the deep analytical work needed here. And this is especially evident in an essay collection whose title lays claim to reckoning with one of the masters of deep and cogent essayistic analysis: Joan Didion ... Missed reflective opportunities are not the only way the Didion allusion is handled rather clumsily ... Khakpour writes Didion as a vehicle weaponized by others to showcase discrimination Khakpour deems unfair instead of creating a vibrant conversation with Didion's ideas to fully analyze Didion's problematic racial erasure ... One wonders, as well, what the thrilling mind of Khakpour would have done if these essays were double, or even triple, their length and allowed to consistently revel in the reflective work that, when done, is razor-sharp and acute.