Message in a Matchbox by Sara Fashandi Named Finalist in International Book Award Contest

Message in a Matchbox has been recognized for its outstanding writing, design and overall market appeal out of thousands of books submitted into the Book Excellence Awards.

Sara Fashandi is the author of Message in a Matchbox, an unforgettable memoir that shares her brother Mohsen’s coming of age in the slums of Tehran, Iran. She sits on the Cal Poly Pomona Women’s Leadership Advisory Board, has been recognized with numerous international literary awards and her interviews have been published by local and national media publications.

A multi-faceted talent, Sara moved to the United States in 1977 to attend The Ohio State University, where she earned a graduate degree in biochemistry. She currently lives in Northern California with her family, but will always consider herself a Buckeye.

Sara enjoys traveling, reading, and connecting with people from diverse backgrounds. She spends her spare time writing the sequel to Message in a Matchbox.

This one-on-one interview shares Sara’s background and experience writing Message in a Matchbox.

Tell Us About Message in a Matchbox.

Message in a Matchbox is an inspiring ode to my eldest brother, Mohsen Fashandi, and the experiences that shaped the man he would become. The book is a compilation of 26 short stories that catalog his most vivid memories from ages six to 23, capturing the trials and triumphs of the hand-to-mouth existence he shared with my struggling parents and siblings.

As a young boy, being rich meant having a full stomach. My father worked as a shoe repairman and my mother sewed clothing for neighbors to help with expenses, even though it was unusual for Iranian women to work at the time. It was my mother’s dream to be a homeowner, and when our family bought a house, she sold some of her wedding jewelry in order to afford it. But the home created an immense financial burden and our family rented space to three tenants to make ends meet.

Growing up, Mohsen was especially resourceful. He taught himself how to become an electrician and contributed to the household through do-it-yourself repairs. He also endured terrible tragedies, including the loss of his nine-month-old brother, Majeed, and sudden death of his first love, Banu.

Yet, despite all these hardships, Mohsen remained cheerful and optimistic. Motivated by the support of our mother, Mohsen realized his dream of going to university in America, emigrating in 1973 to study electrical engineering.

Written in Mohsen’s voice, the book invites readers to walk in the shoes of my brother as he relives some of the most painful and joyful moments of his life.

What inspired you to write Message in a Matchbox?

Message in a Matchbox illustrates the rewarding outcome of perseverance.

My mom harbored a life goal: to secure a brighter future for her children through education.

She sewed tirelessly to earn money so that she could send her children (all seven of us) to college for a better life.  Through hard work and determination, she broke the cycle of poverty in our family. 

A speaker once remarked that each of us requires someone to disrupt the cycle in our lives for improvement. For us, that person was my mother.

How did you feel when you found out you received a Book Excellence Award?

The Book Excellence Awards is a prestigious awards program, so receiving the award filled me with joy and pride. It was validation that my book has met a certain quality, innovation and significance, as determined by a panel of judges.

Not only does the award enhance my book’s credibility, visibility and reputation within the literary community—it has also motivated me to continue writing my story.

How did your background and experience influence your writing?

It all started during a family reunion in the summer of 2006, when I discovered an invaluable treasure: my oldest brother Mohsen’s memories of growing up in Iran.

Hearing him speak about his childhood and the challenges he encountered, I felt a wave of emotions wash over me—elation, sadness, surprise, amazement. Although we were siblings, it seemed as though we had grown up in two different households; Mohsen is the eldest, and I am child number six.

I realized the struggles he went through made him the fascinating, jovial and hardworking man he is today. He had been through so much, that by the time he was twenty-three, he had lived a fuller life than most people ever experience. I was inspired to share his story to show that nothing had ever been given to us on a silver platter. It was through hard-work and perseverance that we built a better life for ourselves and our family.

In preparation for writing the book, I took two years of memoir writing classes in Berkeley to hone my craft. The class provided me with discipline to write regularly and the feedback I received from my instructor and classmates played a big role in helping me improve my writing.

What is one message you would like readers to remember?

Message in a Matchbox shares stories of commitment, perseverance, continual learning, and growth. Through the book, my hope is for readers to have the realization that they can accomplish any life goal they set their mind to. By continuously focusing on the goal, adapting to obstacles, and seeking support when needed—anything is possible!

Purchasing the book

Message in a Matchbox is available for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Readers are encouraged to purchase their copy today:

To connect with Sara and receive updates about upcoming events and new book releases, visit: You can also find Sara on Instagram.

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