Tag Archives: Refugees

Everything Sad Is Untrue (a true story), by Daniel Nayeri

Styling himself after Scheherazade, Khosrou begins his tale with his earliest memory, in which his grandfather in Iran, Baba Haji, kills a bull in his honor and wipes the blood on his little cheeks. At least, he thinks that is how it went, but maybe someone told him that story, or maybe it’s not even true at all. Whatever the case, it makes a great composition for English class in his American school, where everyone calls him Daniel.

Author Nayeri relates the story of his life as a wealthy child in Iran before his family was forced to flee the Muslim “Committee” because of his mother’s conversion to Christianity. They gave up everything, and now his mother works odd jobs to keep them housed and fed, even though she was a physician in Iran. Daniel remembers his father as a superhero of a man, confident and ebullient, but he did not come to America with them, and now he is married to someone else. In one school assignment after another, Daniel works to save his memories in stories, although his classmates only half believe him.

Nayeri uses evocative language to spin this mostly-true tale of his beloved Persian heritage, all the while honoring his mother’s courage in leaving it behind. He revels in the food of his homeland and tells of his evenings making fresh dishes with his mother. He is pudgy and shy, sorry that the girl he admires does not return his affections. His young life has far more years folded into it than his classmates’ simple lives could ever hold. He remembers the suffering of leaving loved ones, living for years as a refugee in Italy, and then starting all over again in Oklahoma.

This autobiographical novel has won just about every prize imaginable for teen books, and it is one of the finest examples of literary achievement for young people that I have read. The writing is beautiful, the style creative. Although the subject matter is sometimes heartbreaking, Daniel has a great sense of humor, so the reader is often laughing through tears. It is a story of immigration in which both the origin and the destination are honored. It is a story of religious persecution that does not hate the other faith. It is the tale of a boy who treasures family and heritage as he reconciles himself to a new home.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story, which is read by the author. I recommend this format, at least as a backup, since Nayeri has a friendly voice, and I would not have pronounced the Farsi words properly otherwise. This book would make a great family read-aloud (listen aloud?), since there is so much to discuss that is part of our ongoing national conversation. The comments about Christianity are refreshingly bold and positive, not the usual careful, neutral words of American writers. After all, his mother was willing to die for Jesus, like most members of the great conversion happening in Iran today. The grown-up Daniel Nayeri’s love and admiration for his mother will warm your heart.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library digital audio copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Long Petal of the SeaVictor was not the handsome Dalmau brother; that was Guillem, a charmer who had fallen in love with Roser, the young woman his family had rescued. No, Victor was consumed by his desire to be a doctor. His studies were interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, but he received plenty of on-the-job training on the battlefield. The day that he reached into a young man’s open chest and massaged his heart back to life, his reputation as a miracle-working cardiologist began.

But the war churned on. Victor, Roser, and his mother were driven from their homes by Franco’s Fascist forces, and they joined the sea of starving refugees pouring toward the French border. Guillem was killed in battle, his mother despaired, and Roser was pregnant. The famous poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda had chartered a ship to bring Spanish refugees to his home country of Chile, the “long petal of the sea,” but he had a limited number of spaces, and only married couples were welcomed.

The refugees were surprised to find a warm welcome in Chile, but their hearts longed for their home in Spain. For years, Victor hoped to return, but instead found himself running, decades later, to Venezuela to escape the Chilean revolution. New friends and family entered his life, and his definition of “home” began to change.

Spanning generations, this intense and enthralling novel weaves fictional and historic characters together in an unforgettable story. Each chapter opens with a few lines of Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and he is portrayed in the book as a friend and confidant of Victor. Isabel Allende’s second cousin and godfather, Salvador Allende, was president of Chile just before the revolution, and he plays a minor role in the story, as well.

Allende observes how huge, worldwide events affect obscure people in life-altering ways, and yet, the slow, invisible workings of the human heart can also change the world forever. She explores the meaning and nature of love, the necessity of courage, and the obstinance of hope. Unlike her novels of magical realism, this is a work of historical fiction that will keep you busy researching South American history and political movements, and it is woven into the author’s own story, as well. Victor and Roser are unforgettable. You will ache for them, hope for them, and be so proud of them.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which is now available to all. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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