Everything Sad is Untrue: A Book Review by Kathryn Dover

Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri is a true story about Nayeri’s family and his experiences as an Iranian refugee in Oklahoma. Since I enjoy reading memoirs and biographies, the book’s synopsis intrigued me.

An image of the cover of Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri


Everything Sad is Untrue was somewhat hard for me to get into, as the story jumps around some. The writing style is very distinct and conversational, as the author is directly addressing the reader. The book has no chapters, though it does have some section breaks. In addition, Nayeri often references 1,001 Nights, basing his writing style somewhat on the way that Scheherazade told the king stories: always ending on a cliffhanger so that the king would keep her alive to continue the story. This style is supposed to keep the reader’s interest as Scheherazade kept the king’s interest, and I found this technique interesting but a little hard to follow.

After reading the synopsis of this book, I wanted to learn about how and why Nayeri and his family came to Oklahoma, but that part of the story does not begin until about halfway through. For roughly the first half of the book, Nayeri relates the few, “fuzzy” memories he has of his grandparents and the stories he has heard from his family (137). He elaborates on some of these stories, filling in details that he does not know, and he also relates some alternative versions of the stories that could have happened had something been different. This portion of the book is choppy, in accordance with what Nayeri calls a refugee’s “patchwork” memory (185). I could identify with this style, as we all have people or experiences that we struggle to remember clearly.

This background serves as the set up for what I consider to be the catalyst of the story: Nayeri’s mother’s conversion to Christianity. Since Christianity was illegal in Iran, her new faith could lead to her—and her two children’s—death if made public. Eventually, she is arrested and told that she and her children will be killed if she does not give the names of the members of the secret church that she has been attending. She is given one week to decide what she will do, and she decides to flee Iran with her children, leaving behind her husband and her wealth. This escape would have been impossible without the three “miracles” Nayeri describes that ensured their escape (220). After several years, they finally arrive in America. The twists in this story surprised me and attest to God’s hand in their escape, and I found Nayeri’s mother admirable. Her story reminds Christian readers that they should always be grateful for the freedoms they have in America.

The ending is satisfactory, as Nayeri and his family are settled in Oklahoma, and where he ends the story seems fitting. However, I wanted to hear more about Nayeri and his sister’s reaction to their mother’s faith. While the book focuses on Nayeri’s own thoughts and feelings, he never directly states his feelings on his mother’s conversion and whether or not he ever became a Christian. (Nayeri does briefly mention his faith in this interview.) Even so, I learned a lot about Nayeri’s culture, and I feel that I enjoyed the book more as I read. I recommend Everything Sad is Untrue to ages twelve and up.

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including six cats, a dog, three fish, and many house plants. She attends Presbyterian College, majoring in math with minors in history and creative writing. Kathryn loves writing, especially plays, and she completed and performed her first play, The Sexton, at 14. She is currently writing for the school newspaper, The BlueStocking. She’s not sure what she wants to do as a career, only that she wants to write, but is trusting that God has a plan for her life to use her in a powerful way.

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