Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us

Category: Book
By (author): Aviv, Rachel
  NON-FICTION / General
  PSYCHOLOGY / Psychopathology / General
  SOCIAL SCIENCE / Disease & Health Issues
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Published: September 2022
Format: Book-hardcover
Pages: 288
Size: 8.52in x 5.78in x 1.04in
Our Price:
$ 33.00
In stock

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*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.

Mental illnesses are often seen as chronic and intractable forces that take over our lives, that define us. But how much do the stories we tell about our illnesses-and the process of diagnosis-inform their course? In Strangers to Ourselves, a powerful and gripping debut, Rachel Aviv writes about how explanations for mental distress may shape our health, our sense of who we are, and the possibilities for who we can be in the world. Drawing on deep, original reporting and unpublished journals and memoirs, Aviv follows an Indian woman, celebrated as a saint, who lived in healing temples in Kerala; an incarcerated mother vying for her children's forgiveness after a period of psychosis; a man seeking revenge against a prominent psychoanalytic hospital through a lawsuit that dramatizes the clash between two irreconcilable models of the mind; an affluent young woman whose lifelong psychiatric treatment eventually leads her to go off her meds in a desperate attempt to figure out who she would be without them. Animated by a profound sense of empathy, Aviv's exploration is refracted through her own account of being institutionalized at the age of six and meeting Hava, a friend and fellow patient with whom her life runs parallel-until it no longer does.
While the stories unfold in different eras and cultures, they converge in the psychic hinterlands, the outer edges of human experience. Aviv writes about people who have come up against the limits of psychiatric explanations and endeavor to recover a sense of agency, in search of new ways to understand a self in the world. Challenging conventional ideas of mental disease as something static, Aviv's accounts are testaments to the porousness and resilience of the mind.
Review Quote*"In this penetrating, landmark book, Rachel Aviv investigates what she calls the 'psychic hinterlands,' drawing on her customary vivid reporting and her own extraordinary personal story to pose unsettling questions about the ways in which we reckon with mental illness by categorizing it, diagnosing it, giving it a name. Threading together the intimate and emotionally shattering stories of a series of very different people who have struggled to live with and to understand their own psychological afflictions, Aviv has created an arresting work of profound empathy and insight." -Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Empire of Pain and Say Nothing

"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

"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 The Idiot and Either/Or
"Haunting and profound, Strangers to Ourselves teaches us that beyond neurotransmitters, beyond family dynamics, lives turn out differently because of the different stories people spin about themselves. This brilliant book will shift the way you think about what we so simplistically call 'mental illness.'" -T. M. Luhrmann, professor of anthropology at Stanford University
"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
"A heartfelt plea for a return to detailed storytelling as an element in mental health care and, within the stories, attention to context: the factors like culture, class, race, religion, family customs, idiosyncratic experience, and private dreams and ambitions that shape lives and illnesses." -Peter D. Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac
"The master prose stylist Rachel Aviv quietly explodes our neat narratives as she rescues the radiant meanings of lives formed in extremity, including her own. Breaking away from labels that have the power to create the futures they foretell, her case histories are kaleidoscopic, filled with sudden radiance and uncomfortable discontinuities that in the end force forward profound questions about what is real. Brilliant." -George Makari, MD, author of Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia and director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine
Biographical NoteRACHEL AVIV has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2013. She has written for the magazine about a range of subjects including medicine, legal ethics, and criminal justice. She was a finalist for the National Magazine Award for Public Interest for a story about elderly people stripped of their legal rights. She has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award and the Scripps Howard Award, for reporting about police violence. She was a 2019 national fellow at New America. She lives in Brooklyn.