I want to share ten beautiful quotes from a new favorite book. It’s called Everything Sad is Untrue It is the (mostly) true story of an Iranian refugee, written from what he would remember from his perspective as an 8-year-old.

I love how it’s written with humor and also so much wisdom, giving me a glimpse into his family’s tragedies and triumphs. Because his mother and sister converted from Islam to Christianity (punishable by death), they are “banished” to Oklahoma. They leave a life of nobility and riches, to poverty, bullying classmates, and misunderstandings. It is Nayeri’s stream-of-conscious journey trying to make sense of having to leave his father behind, religion, the ripple-effects of his mother’s strength and decisions. And it is all so beautifully woven into a story he is trying to make his classmates understand.

He says things so much better than I do, so I’m just going to share my favorite quotes. Which, it should be noted, make me cry while writing this post. Such a beautiful take on how we can come out triumphant even after the most difficult refining fires.

My favorite quotes

“Sometimes you just want somebody to look at a thing with you and say, “Yes. That is a thing you’re looking at. You haven’t lied to yourself.”

― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue

“But like you, I was made carefully, by a God who loved what He saw. Like you, I want a friend.”

― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue

“To lose something you never had can be just as painful—because it is the hope of having it that you lose.”

― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue

Oh how I feel this sometimes!

“What you believe about the future will change how you live in the present.”

― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue

“The legend of my mom is that she can’t be stopped. Not when you hit her. Not when a whole country full of goons puts her in a cage. Not even if you make her poor and try to kill her slowly in the little-by-little poison of sadness. And the legend is true. I think because she’s fixed her eyes on something beyond the rivers of blood, to a beautiful place on the other side. How else would anybody do it?”

― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue

Oh, that power of “fixing our eyes on something beyond the rivers of blood” is just so powerful to me.

“Does writing poetry make you brave? It is a good question to ask. I think making anything is a brave thing to do. Not like fighting brave, obviously. But a kind that looks at a horrible situation and doesn’t crumble. Making anything assumes there’s a world worth making it for. That you’ll have someplace, like a clown’s pants, to hide it when people come to take it away. I guess I’m saying making something is a hopeful thing to do. And being hopeful in a world of pain is either brave or crazy.”

― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue

“My mom was a sayyed from the bloodline of the Prophet (which you know about now). In Iran, if you convert from Islam to Christianity or Judaism, it’s a capital crime.

That means if they find you guilty in religious court, they kill you. But if you convert to something else, like Buddhism or something, then it’s not so bad. Probably because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are sister religions, and you always have the worst fights with your sister.

And probably nothing happens if you’re just a six-year-old. Except if you say, “I’m a Christian now,” in your school, chances are the Committee will hear about it and raid your house, because if you’re a Christian now, then so are your parents probably. And the Committee does stuff way worse than killing you.

When my sister walked out of her room and said she’d met Jesus, my mom knew all that.

And here is the part that gets hard to believe: Sima, my mom, read about him and became a Christian too. Not just a regular one, who keeps it in their pocket. She fell in love. She wanted everybody to have what she had, to be free, to realize that in other religions you have rules and codes and obligations to follow to earn good things, but all you had to do with Jesus was believe he was the one who died for you.

And she believed.

When I tell the story in Oklahoma, this is the part where the grown-ups always interrupt me. They say, “Okay, but why did she convert?”

Cause up to that point, I’ve told them about the house with the birds in the walls, all the villages my grandfather owned, all the gold, my mom’s own medical practice—all the amazing things she had that we don’t have anymore because she became a Christian.

All the money she gave up, so we’re poor now.

But I don’t have an answer for them.

How can you explain why you believe anything? So I just say what my mom says when people ask her. She looks them in the eye with the begging hope that they’ll hear her and she says, “Because it’s true.”

Why else would she believe it?

It’s true and it’s more valuable than seven million dollars in gold coins, and thousands of acres of Persian countryside, and ten years of education to get a medical degree, and all your family, and a home, and the best cream puffs of Jolfa, and even maybe your life.

My mom wouldn’t have made the trade otherwise.

If you believe it’s true, that there is a God and He wants you to believe in Him and He sent His Son to die for you—then it has to take over your life. It has to be worth more than everything else, because heaven’s waiting on the other side.

That or Sima is insane.

There’s no middle. You can’t say it’s a quirky thing she thinks sometimes, cause she went all the way with it.

If it’s not true, she made a giant mistake.

But she doesn’t think so.

She had all that wealth, the love of all those people she helped in her clinic. They treated her like a queen. She was a sayyed.

And she’s poor now.

People spit on her on buses. She’s a refugee in places people hate refugees, with a husband who hits harder than a second-degree black belt because he’s a third-degree black belt. And she’ll tell you—it’s worth it. Jesus is better.

It’s true.

We can keep talking about it, keep grinding our teeth on why Sima converted, since it turned the fate of everybody in the story. It’s why we’re here hiding in Oklahoma.

We can wonder and question and disagree. You can be certain she’s dead wrong.

But you can’t make Sima agree with you.

It’s true.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

This whole story hinges on it.

Sima—who was such a fierce Muslim that she marched for the Revolution, who studied the Quran the way very few people do read the Bible and knew in her heart that it was true.”

Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue

“Can God create a mountain so big that He himself couldn’t lift it? It’s trying to put God in a corner, because if He can or if He can’t, He’s not all-powerful. But the question is silly, because it assumes God is as stupid as we are. If you’re as big as God, there’s no such thing as “lifting.” It’s all just floating in a million universes you made. If you made an object of some insane, unusual size, then it’d still be a thing. And God is as big as everything at once. And as small. Physical stuff is too simple. The better question is, Can God create a law so big that He himself has to obey it? Is there an idea so big that God doesn’t remember anything before it? That answer is love. Love is the object of unusual size.”

― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue

“A god who listens is love. A god who speaks is law. At their worst, the people who want a god who listens are self-centered…And the ones who want a god who speaks are cruel. They just want laws and justice to crush everything…Love is empty without justice. Justice is cruel without love….God should be both. If a god isn’t, that is no God.”

― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue

Yes, this book sure made me think.

So grateful for an opportunity to take a step walking in Daniel Nayeri’s shoes, and learning so much from his perspective.

Everyone has such depth to their stories.

Makes me think more about how I want to examine my own.

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17 Comments

  1. Dear Shawni, I love so many of your mothering ideas and thank you for them!
    I was, however, saddened to see this book review. Everyone has their own experiences of course, but it is another example of Muslims being portrayed as ‘bad’, othered, extreme, backwards, etc. when that is pretty much how we are constantly portrayed and how our image is nearly ALL THE TIME. I am tired of and saddened by it.
    I am not blaming you at all, because I know you’ve done other book reviews that portray Muslims in a more positive lights (and have meet with our community and I am so grateful for your friendliness and open-mindedness!). However in light of what is happening right now, a literal genocide of Palestinians (35,000 killed by Israel in the past 4 months, they are being starved, bombed from their homes, 2.3 million displaced) taking place because our community has been ‘othered’ and villainized so much, it made me sad to see this. 🙁

    1. Oh Miriam, I’ve missed you! Thank you for this comment and for your kindness. I don’t know if you have read this book, but I didn’t feel as if it was portraying Muslims as “bad” at all. Maybe you’re thinking that because of the quote I included about the “rules”…that “in other religions you have rules and codes and obligations to follow to earn good things,” but I think that was just an example of how this particular woman interpreted the rules, just as so many interpret the “rules” of my religion, just as someone may interpret the rules of her new-found Christianity.

      I think it was just the journey of one family who happened to convert to Christianity. There is so much more to the story so perhaps the quote selections are leading you to believe it is about just that one thing. For that I apologize. There are probably many beautiful stories of people converting to Islam as well I’m assuming? I know, thanks to YOU for being so open and loving and inviting and teaching me, that there is so much good and light in the Muslim community. I truly believe there is truth and goodness everywhere people are trying to be guided and seeking the light and the good. The podcast included in this post is exactly how I personally feel about religion: https://71toes.com/i-shall-speak-to-all-nations-of-the-earth/.

      I love that in the “Part 2” podcast in that link the Quran is mentioned as well. I still have the Quran you gave me and have read many parts of it. So grateful for your friendship and for sharing the beauty of your religion with me.

      Please let me know if there are other parts of what I said that didn’t sit well with you and if I’m making sense.

      Sending love to you and your family!
      XOXO

      1. Aww Shawni I miss you too! I wish I still lived in Arizona so that I could see you more often. ❤️

        I think a lot of people, such as maybe the commenter K, equate the government of some Muslim majority countries as the epitome of how all Muslims are or Islam is, and people often see the most negative examples portrayed (remember that infamous movie “Not Without My Daughter” for example) & do not see the other side hardly ever, if at all (there’s a YouTube movie called “Without My Daughter” that shows the other side of the same story). People often do not see (or maybe even want to see?) normal, everyday Muslims. Or maybe because of lack of exposure to us, or sensationalism, they think we are how the mainstream media unfortunately shows us.

        You are correct that there are many examples of people that I know personally, who have become Muslim and their families and communities have turned their backs on them for converting to Islam. They each have their own stories too, of the struggles they have gone through and the beautiful resiliency they have shown, but again that’s not what the general public hears or read about.

        I think I have been so overwhelmed lately about how Muslims have been portrayed, over decades and more, and how it culminates in huge issues, misunderstandings, and actual ‘wars on terror’ that take place based on these characterizations. For example an estimated 2+ million Iraqis have died since 2003 due to a baseless war, when it was all just drummed up on Islamophobia and weapons of mass destruction that were never there in the first place! Every single one of those 2 million people matter, and they (as well as millions others) have largely been dehumanized. This entry was just a reminder of unintentional microaggression of negative attitudes towards an already stigmatized group (advising with love).

        I have no ties to Iran myself, but as an American I honestly cannot think of one good thing I’ve seen or heard of in our culture when it comes to Iran, and it reminded me of the same old us (good) vs. them (bad), “axis of evil” feelings. However, having met Irani people, I know they are so different and nice from what I have seen as portrayed by our country. (Though not perfect, I think a nice video people can watch is “Rick Steves’ Iran” on YouTube.)

        And now what’s happening in Palestine… How do I even begin to explain the injustices and oppression Palestinians have faced in the past 75 years (and 4 months). I’ll try and comment on that later because it is just SO heartbreaking & deserves a post of its own. 💔
        Thank you for your genuine question on Palestine, Shawni.

        My sincere congratulations to you & Dave on becoming grandparents. May God bless you and your family 💚

    2. So. Miriam, please help me understand how I should react to/feel toward a religion that thinks it’s ok to kill someone who wants to convert to Christianity? I believe in religious freedom and tolerance for all.

      1. Hello K, there are many nuances between what the religious texts state and how scholars & followers of the faith have interpreted how rules are implemented (an example is how the Bible says an adulterer should be stoned).

        So K, if you’re really open to learning how “apostasy in Islam can only be understood if one is willing to look beyond provocative headlines and delve into the nature of how jurisprudence developed in the pre-modern world and in Islam in particular” (quote from article below), here’s some reading for you:
        https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/the-issue-of-apostasy-in-islam

        PSL Glad to hear you believe in religious tolerance! Me too 🙂

  2. Hi Shawni
    Super curious if you have ever read the Quraan?
    If not for guidance then just to get a better understanding of the religion and maybe to remove preconceived notions about the religion practiced by almost 2 billion people. Its funny because if there is any religion that the world and the media portrays in a negative light it is Islam, yet now with the ongoing massacres carried out against the people of Palestine (mostly muslims) alot of people are realizing that the media is not a very trustworthy source, with the amount of bias for one side and the complete neglect to mention the on going suffering on the other side (and I don’t just mean after oct 7 but for the past 75 years) and that has lead people to realise that if the media is not reliable for all of this what if they’ve been abit(very) off the mark about Islam and Muslims too, and so people are reading the Quraan if for no other reason than to make their OWN judgment rather than just to accept everything they are fed.
    So in conclusion I wish everyone would take the time to read the Quraan and make their own judgments ❤️

    1. Thank you for these comments, Ella. See my comment above about the Quran. My copy was given to me from Miriam (above) and I’m so grateful for the light she shared about her religion. (https://71toes.com/open/). Again, I apologize if these book quotes came off as anything against the Islam religion, just a journey of some refugees from Iran. Please correct me if you have read the book and feel differently.
      xoxo

  3. Probably one of the most untrue thing about Islam is that Muslim women are oppressed. Just a fun fact, in an authentic narration the Prophet (peace be upon him) has said; “The most perfect of the believers is the best of you in character, and the best of you are those among you who are best to their wives.” ❤️

    1. I also have to add that I just don’t even have words for what is going on for Palestinians right now. Holding so much space in my heart for those suffering horrifically. How can hearts be changed? How can we rally? So many prayers and love to be sent there as well as other places in the world that are in the midst of so much turmoil.😔

  4. Hi Shaw I, Since you’re keen to broaden your horizons through books, a truly worthy goal, perhaps a book from a Muslim perspective would be of interest to you instead of from a Christian perspective?

  5. So I read this book too, and was very impressed by the punch it packs WHILE being incredibly subtle. Absolutely nothing was overdone or obvious or too saccharine or affected. But the big emotions came through strong! So we’ll written.
    Anyway, I liked it, and I also wrote down several quotes–4 whole notebooks pages of them! But the funny thing to me is that none of mine were the same as yours! 😂 Which goes to show how many great ideas are in the book, because I like all of your quotes too.

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