Strangers to Ourselves: Book summary and reviews of Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv

Strangers to Ourselves

Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us

by Rachel Aviv

Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv X
Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv
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Book Summary

The highly anticipated debut from the acclaimed, award-winning New Yorker writer Rachel Aviv compels us to examine how the stories we tell about mental illness shape our sense of who we are.

In Strangers to Ourselves, a powerful and gripping debut, Rachel Aviv raises fundamental questions about how we understand ourselves in periods of crisis and distress. Drawing on deep, original reporting as well as unpublished journals and memoirs, Aviv writes about people who have come up against the limits of psychiatric explanations for who they are. She follows an Indian woman, celebrated as a saint, who lives in healing temples in Kerala; an incarcerated mother vying for her children's forgiveness after recovering from psychosis; a man who devotes his life to seeking revenge upon his psychoanalysts; and an affluent young woman who, after a decade of defining herself through her diagnosis, decides to go off her meds because she doesn't know who she is without them. Animated by a profound sense of empathy, Aviv's exploration is refracted through her own account of living in a hospital ward at the age of six and meeting a fellow patient with whom her life runs parallel―until it no longer does.

Aviv asks how the stories we tell about mental disorders shape their course in our lives. Challenging the way we understand and talk about illness, her account is a testament to the porousness and resilience of the mind.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Perceptive and intelligent...Aviv applies her signature conscientiousness and probing intellect to every section of this eye-opening book. Her profiles are memorable and empathetic...Aviv treats her subjects with both scholarly interest and genuine compassion...A moving, meticulously researched, elegantly constructed work of nonfiction." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Aviv's considerable storytelling abilities are on full display here as she renders compassionate and nuanced portraits of individuals wrestling to gain a coherent sense of identity from the limited lexicon of psychiatry. This eye-opening examination makes for a valuable addition to modern discourse around mental illness." - Publishers Weekly

"An interesting look into treatment of mental illness." - Library Journal

"A groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting exploration of the relationship between diagnosis and identity. This is the kind of book that can make your life flash before your eyes, glittering with new insights and a sense of unguessed possibilities." - Elif Batuman, author of Either/Or and The Idiot

"Writing with uncanny empathy and integrity, Rachel Aviv illuminates the ways that culture shapes our perceptions of mental illness and who is deserving of care. Strangers to Ourselves is a work of landmark reporting that is truly heartbreaking and astonishing." - Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

"Aviv writes with an unpredictable mixture of intimacy and distance, exploring how psychiatric language often alters what it names. She has assembled a remarkable archive of unpublished materials―memoirs, poems, journals (including her own)―that offers a visceral counterpoint to the official languages of institutions and expertise. I admire her rigor and eloquence but also her restraint―she makes vivid experiences we can't explain." - Ben Lerner, author of The Topeka School

This information about Strangers to Ourselves was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Rachel Aviv

Rachel Aviv is a staff writer at the New Yorker, where she writes about medicine, education, criminal justice, and other subjects. In 2022, she won a National Magazine Award for Profile Writing. A 2019 national fellow at New America, she received a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant to support her work on Strangers to Ourselves. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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