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2020 Book Concierge: Ailsa Chang Picks 'Everything Sad Is Untrue' By Daniel Nayeri

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. We know you readers love NPR's Book Concierge. It's got this cool way to sort by topics. You get to click on these gorgeous covers, all to find the best books from 2020. Well, one of my favorite books on that list was actually written for kids ages 10 and up. It's called "Everything Sad Is Untrue" by Daniel Nayeri. And it hooks you right from the opening line.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DANIEL NAYERI: (Reading) All Persians are liars, and lying is a sin.

CHANG: This book takes you on a journey through myth, youth and culture clash as the main character and his family flee from Iran to Oklahoma. It's a novelistic take on the author's own life, and his mother emerges as the true hero of the story. I spoke with him earlier this year and asked what kept her going on their journey.

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NAYERI: This whole book doesn't happen if my mother doesn't give up everything in the world - her medical practice, her very high social standing, her marriage, her family, her home, her home country. My mother converted to Christianity because that is her belief. It was very clearly not a cultural agreement. It was something for which all of it was relinquished. A life being very well-to-do in Iran becomes a life of abject poverty and abuse. And she will tell you she would do it all over again.

To that end, the book even says when you look at her, you have to say, wow, this person is completely unhinged and crazy, or there is something that she has deeply and sincerely valued above all this. And that is her faith.

CHANG: The story moves back and forth through time. And at one point, Nayeri writes that, quote, "a patchwork memory is the shame of a refugee."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NAYERI: When we look at family histories, we often use metaphors of the family line or the family tree. And what that really implies is the collective effort of keeping family tradition and family memories alive. Your uncle might pull you aside in the holidays and gift you his dad's pocketknife, or your grandfather might teach you how to make yogurt properly. Whatever these traditions, these ideas are, they're a linear path. And when you take one chunk of the family - a small chunk - and immediately remove them, you're breaking that line. And I think it is a shame to be so unclaimed - this idea that the collective work that any family does of telling each other their own story can't be done.

CHANG: Daniel Nayeri's book is also infused with big love, delicious food and so many laughs. For more great books from this year, search theconcierge@npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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