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A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life: an ex she runs into by chance at a public forum, an Airbnb owner unsure how to interact with her guests, a stranger who seeks help comforting his elderly mother, a friend of her youth now hospitalized with terminal cancer. In each of these people the woman finds a commo A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life: an ex she runs into by chance at a public forum, an Airbnb owner unsure how to interact with her guests, a stranger who seeks help comforting his elderly mother, a friend of her youth now hospitalized with terminal cancer. In each of these people the woman finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and to have an audience to their experiences. The narrator orchestrates this chorus of voices for the most part as a passive listener, until one of them makes an extraordinary request, drawing her into an intense and transformative experience of her own. In What Are You Going Through, Nunez brings wisdom, humor, and insight to a novel about human connection and the changing nature of relationships in our times. A surprising story about empathy and the unusual ways one person can help another through hardship, her book offers a moving and provocative portrait of the way we live now.


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A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life: an ex she runs into by chance at a public forum, an Airbnb owner unsure how to interact with her guests, a stranger who seeks help comforting his elderly mother, a friend of her youth now hospitalized with terminal cancer. In each of these people the woman finds a commo A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life: an ex she runs into by chance at a public forum, an Airbnb owner unsure how to interact with her guests, a stranger who seeks help comforting his elderly mother, a friend of her youth now hospitalized with terminal cancer. In each of these people the woman finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and to have an audience to their experiences. The narrator orchestrates this chorus of voices for the most part as a passive listener, until one of them makes an extraordinary request, drawing her into an intense and transformative experience of her own. In What Are You Going Through, Nunez brings wisdom, humor, and insight to a novel about human connection and the changing nature of relationships in our times. A surprising story about empathy and the unusual ways one person can help another through hardship, her book offers a moving and provocative portrait of the way we live now.

30 review for What Are You Going Through

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    I absolutely love Sigrid Nunez!!!!! UPDATE: Audiobook....read by Hillary Nunez A short 5 hour audiobook that I listened to in a one day sweep, yesterday....hiking and then warm water pool soaking. It was impossible to put down. One of my favorite books this year!!!! Sigrid Nunez should win another national award for it....as she did in “The Friend”. The audiobook is excellent. My only regret is I’m now sick: lungs headache, and chills.....from ignoring the air quality risks. STUPID STUPID ME! I shoul I absolutely love Sigrid Nunez!!!!! UPDATE: Audiobook....read by Hillary Nunez A short 5 hour audiobook that I listened to in a one day sweep, yesterday....hiking and then warm water pool soaking. It was impossible to put down. One of my favorite books this year!!!! Sigrid Nunez should win another national award for it....as she did in “The Friend”. The audiobook is excellent. My only regret is I’m now sick: lungs headache, and chills.....from ignoring the air quality risks. STUPID STUPID ME! I should never have spent 5 hours outside with our environmental conditions. So keeping this short....( I just wrote another review- and with my head pounding - I’m spent)... On top of that my kindle died this morning. HOURS on the phone with Amazon LOCATING the 3 year warranty. SIX PEOPLE I HAD TO TALK WITH.... BUT FINALLY THEY FOUND MY extended warranty purchase. Whew! So....a little - finally good news - in a basically one crappy day. Bad time to write a review of a book I soooooo LOVE..... The best thing I can say....is JUST READ IT. ....or.... LISTEN TO IT as I did The blurb is all that’s needed.... but for me.... One of the most affecting conversations was about the dying woman’s relationship with her daughter....( her only child), and their long standing troubled relationship. I agreed with the dying women’s choices not to include her with her death journey....( although she was the beneficiary of her will), - but damn - it’s sad. And....I’m not just talking about death.....rather the many years of hopelessness. Soooo powerful..... ( funny bone laughs too - an Airbnb scene - the farty- ex-Professor ......good laughs and eye rolling scenes too) I felt like I was in the same room with the unnamed narrator and her friend while they were talking and planning their days ahead.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    This is a Rachel Cusk-esque brain twister slapping us with the fact that yes, we are all going to die. Playing on themes similar to her bestseller The Friend, Nunez gives us a first-person narrator who visits a friend with terminal cancer. While at the beginning, the novel reflects conversations with various people and stories the narrator encounters and recalls, all centering on the passage of time, grief and regret, the destiny of the cancer-stricken friend slowly emerges as the main narrative This is a Rachel Cusk-esque brain twister slapping us with the fact that yes, we are all going to die. Playing on themes similar to her bestseller The Friend, Nunez gives us a first-person narrator who visits a friend with terminal cancer. While at the beginning, the novel reflects conversations with various people and stories the narrator encounters and recalls, all centering on the passage of time, grief and regret, the destiny of the cancer-stricken friend slowly emerges as the main narrative thread that will, around the middle of the text, set in motion a course of events that questions the meaning of death and by that, the meaning of life. The text certainly requires a reader with some patience for complex story-within-story-within-a-story constructions that call for some work in order to establish parallels and juxtapostitions on the main themes. The effort pays off though, because it's the variety that conveys the complexity of the human experience - and in the end, this is also a book about the power of stories, mainly those which are shared from person to person. The narrator also refers to famous thinkers and artists to ponder issues like sadness and compassion - the titular question "What are you going through" can be found numerous times in the text, contemplating the ability (or inability) to grasp how another person feels, in how far we can empathize with experiences outside ourselves. Nunez particularly looks at the experiences of women, their specific roles and challenges, and the versions of sadness they undergo as a result. A smart, haunting little book with an experimental feel that in all its wisdom is not easy to stomach.

  3. 4 out of 5

    William2

    A dark book but not without humor of the gallows variety. Touches, I think, on the darkness we find in Thomas Bernhard—that is high praise—at times verging on but never quite getting to the full Bernhardian rant. But bleak, bleak. Just my sort of thing. There’s no description of individuals, except in the briefest functional terms, just action, dialogue, and thought. There’s a talking cat, but this may be a dream of the narrator’s. At any rate it made me think of Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat. Int A dark book but not without humor of the gallows variety. Touches, I think, on the darkness we find in Thomas Bernhard—that is high praise—at times verging on but never quite getting to the full Bernhardian rant. But bleak, bleak. Just my sort of thing. There’s no description of individuals, except in the briefest functional terms, just action, dialogue, and thought. There’s a talking cat, but this may be a dream of the narrator’s. At any rate it made me think of Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat. Interestingly, too, the book has its thumb in current events. But not in a relentlessly Monica Ali way. The main story is of two writers, one of whom is dying; the other, a friend, is our narrator. No one’s named, just as no one’s described. The dying woman wants a suicide vacation. The narrator is talked into it. A beach house is rented through Airbnb from jet setting elders. The terminal one forgets her pills; they drive back to the city, get the drugs and return to the beach house. There’s another plot line, if we can call it that, which introduces the narrator’s ex, who lectures on the unlikelihood of our continuation as a species. He’s eschatological but without the religion. His arguments are steeped in science and logic. He’s quite a pistol. The dying woman—said to be based on Susan Sontag—is cruel, and she wonders why she raised such a cruel (estranged) daughter. My thought is the fruit never falls far from the tree. Now the dying woman is reviewing her life as the narrator listens. “You want to forgive all, my friend said, and you should forgive all. But you discover that some things you can’t forgive, not even when you know you’re dying. And then that becomes its own open wound, she said: the inability to forgive.” (p. 163) If it is at times gruesome, it is entertainingly so.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    In What Are You Going Through, the narrator encounters the phenomenon that sometimes happens as you get older where you are past forming new relationships and your old ones have moved and changed. One friend is approaching death from cancer and she captures the absurdity and how a person changes during that journey so well - this is not a Lifetime movie. At the same time I'm having a hard time letting this stick to my bones - it's probably too close to my actual experiences to feel all that memor In What Are You Going Through, the narrator encounters the phenomenon that sometimes happens as you get older where you are past forming new relationships and your old ones have moved and changed. One friend is approaching death from cancer and she captures the absurdity and how a person changes during that journey so well - this is not a Lifetime movie. At the same time I'm having a hard time letting this stick to my bones - it's probably too close to my actual experiences to feel all that memorable. I see truth here but it's truth I already know. Which in the end is a bit of a strange reading experience. I had a copy from the publisher through NetGalley. This came out September 8, and I wanted to read it because I really loved her last book, The Friend. The style and themes are really quite similar but if I were to recommend a starting place it would be The Friend first.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Canadian Reader

    A resonant, powerful, and unconventional novel, which barely possesses a plot. The writing is clean and unpretentious. Nunez writes about difficult truths and possibly the most difficult of experiences: accompanying a dying person. There really are times when nothing we can say or nothing others can say to us can make a situation better. I found this an intense reading experience, and, short as the book is, I was relieved to reach the end. The reader is committed to and endures the experience, m A resonant, powerful, and unconventional novel, which barely possesses a plot. The writing is clean and unpretentious. Nunez writes about difficult truths and possibly the most difficult of experiences: accompanying a dying person. There really are times when nothing we can say or nothing others can say to us can make a situation better. I found this an intense reading experience, and, short as the book is, I was relieved to reach the end. The reader is committed to and endures the experience, much as the narrator does. A couple of quotations from the novel: “We talk glibly about finding the right words, but about the most important things, those words we never find. We put the words down as they must be put down, one after the other, but that is not life, that is not death, one word after the other, no, that is not right at all. No matter how hard we try to put the most important things into words, it is always like toe-dancing in clogs.” “how hard it was for people to accept reality”

  6. 4 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    This follow-up to the National Book Award winning The Friend follows a similar formula to its predecessor. There is a loose plot - a writer agrees to assist a terminally-ill friend in ending her life. But it's really a framework for Sigrid Nunez to examine certain topics in her typically perceptive manner: mortality, old age and grief among many others. The dying woman has a daughter but they are not on the best of terms. Hence the reason our narrator is enlisted. She agrees as she feels as thoug This follow-up to the National Book Award winning The Friend follows a similar formula to its predecessor. There is a loose plot - a writer agrees to assist a terminally-ill friend in ending her life. But it's really a framework for Sigrid Nunez to examine certain topics in her typically perceptive manner: mortality, old age and grief among many others. The dying woman has a daughter but they are not on the best of terms. Hence the reason our narrator is enlisted. She agrees as she feels as though she can't let her friend down, but as the time approaches, pressure begins to build. The practicalities of it alone are difficult to process. Should they be in the same room when it happens? What does she tell the police when she phones to report the death? The pair travel to a beautiful Airbnb in the countryside to carry out the plan, but things don't pan out the way they expect. It's written in a casual, almost conversational style but it asks tough questions. Is it wrong to help end a friend's suffering? Is a parent allowed to admit that they don't love their child? Is it selfish to bring a baby into a world where there is so much torment? The book is short but it's full of hard-won insight and clear-eyed wisdom. Though the subject matter is often bleak, it left me with much to think about. A rewarding, enlightening read from a tremendously gifted writer. Favourite Quotes: "The only thing harder than seeing yourself grow old is seeing the people you’ve loved grow old." "Youth burdened with full knowledge of just how sad and painful aging is I would not call youth at all." "What are you going through? When Simone Weil said that being able to ask this question was what love of one’s neighbor truly meant, she was writing in her native French. And in French the great question sounds quite different: Quel est ton tourment?" "This is how it is with people, she tells me now. No matter what, they want you to keep fighting. This is how we’ve been taught to see cancer: a fight between patient and disease. Which is to say between good and evil. There’s a right way and a wrong way to act. A strong way and a weak way. The warrior’s way and the quitter’s way. If you survive you’re a hero. If you lose, well, maybe you didn’t fight hard enough." "There’s a certain kind of happiness, my friend said, that is open only to young children. I mean, as a child, it’s possible to be totally focused on just one thing. It’s your birthday. You asked for a bike, or a puppy, or a new pair of skates. As the day draws near it’s all you can think about. And then it happens, your wish fulfilled, your dream come true, and nothing to spoil it. In getting that one thing it’s as if you’d been given everything. But after a certain age, that feeling—that pure bliss—doesn’t happen, it can’t happen, because you never want just one thing anymore, once you reach puberty it’s no longer possible."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    [4+] Like The Friend, this is a wise, deceptively simple novel. You would think that a story about a woman helping her dying friend would be heavy and ponderous. It isn't. For me it didn't quite have the emotional resonance of "The Friend" but still - a marvelous novel. There are many funny, unexpected moments. Nunez has a gentle way of cracking things open, guiding me to think more deeply. [4+] Like The Friend, this is a wise, deceptively simple novel. You would think that a story about a woman helping her dying friend would be heavy and ponderous. It isn't. For me it didn't quite have the emotional resonance of "The Friend" but still - a marvelous novel. There are many funny, unexpected moments. Nunez has a gentle way of cracking things open, guiding me to think more deeply.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    If, as Shakespeare wrote, life is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," then what is the meaning of life and why tell the tale at all? The unmarried and childless narrator of Sigrid Nunez's latest book, who has reached the age where death is a possibility, reflects on it this way: "The writers who believe that the way they write is more important than whatever they may write about-these are the only writers I want to read anymore, the only ones who can lift me up. If, as Shakespeare wrote, life is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," then what is the meaning of life and why tell the tale at all? The unmarried and childless narrator of Sigrid Nunez's latest book, who has reached the age where death is a possibility, reflects on it this way: "The writers who believe that the way they write is more important than whatever they may write about-these are the only writers I want to read anymore, the only ones who can lift me up." Using that criteria, Sigrid Nunez's book lifted me up. This book can be read as a companion piece to her last book, The Friend, which was about a writer grieving the death of a fellow writer. Death looms large in this book as well. The narrator's good friend, who is very estranged from her own daughter, is dying of cancer. A request will be made and honored. And by doing so, the narrator will understand more about herself and her own mortality. For those of us who have lived more years than we have allotted for the future, there are many pithy observations. In between the forward propulsion of the narrator and her friend, there are gems about so many things: the sadness of once being a beautiful woman and now just being old, the falsity of language in describing transformative moments, the incredulity of once knowing someone well and realizing that life has gone on and you really know very little about that person. The book is interspersed with tales: of being roped into visits with a crabby shut-in neighbor to alleviate the worries of her son, a cat's tormented tale of its life before adoption, for example. This narrator, like the one in The Friend who is similarly unmarried and alone, derives meaning from connection - not with a dog (as in the Friend) but with a dying friend. Yet the book is not grim; rather, it fully captures the richness of living in ordinary moments and the humanity that connects us all. Sigrid Nunez, in explaining her title, quotes Simone Weil, who wrote, "the love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him, "What are you going through?" Wryly, she says that the question becomes more powerful in French: "Que est ton tourment?" It is a question, she suggests, that ties us together.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Banks

    I read Nunez's The Friend a few months back and greatly admired it. Ordered What Are You Going Through from the local library and it's also wonderful. It has a quality of wisdom tinged with graceful and generous humour, which is exactly what we need in our strange and disconcerting times. The book returns to themes of friendship and compassion addressed in the Friend but this time the narrator, a woman with a background in literature and academia, supports an old friend through her final days wit I read Nunez's The Friend a few months back and greatly admired it. Ordered What Are You Going Through from the local library and it's also wonderful. It has a quality of wisdom tinged with graceful and generous humour, which is exactly what we need in our strange and disconcerting times. The book returns to themes of friendship and compassion addressed in the Friend but this time the narrator, a woman with a background in literature and academia, supports an old friend through her final days with terminal cancer and a decision to end her life through euthanasia. The narrator compassionately bears witness to this end of life. Interestingly the book opens with an account of a public lecture given by the narrator's ex-partner: a male, now older acclaimed literary writer, who is giving forth on the end times of humanity due to climate change etc. in a somewhat prophetic tone. He sees no hope for turning things around and very little redeemable about the crises. The book plays on this tension of finding hope, grace, generosity in the very face of painful endings (the end of a life, perhaps the end of ways in which humanity is living due to climate change). But Nunez doesn't flinch from the pain and terrible consequences of these crises: it isn't panglossian, sentimental or especially nostalgic. If anything she directs gentle but sharp humor at such responses. Through the shared experiences of the two central women, the compassion and respect that comes through, I think we also see a particularly gendered critique of masculine responses to crises, especially from a certain type of privileged white male (and I'm thinking of myself here) as we process and confront the various catastrophes playing out globally and for which we bear some responsibility. There's also a fascinating meta reflection weaved through the book in the form of discussions between the women about the significance and value of art and culture, including literary forms, in the midst of all this. Have they wasted their lives in a commitment to literary culture, what difference has it and can it make? It is just a comfort or is it something more. There's no trite or easy answers offered. But for me if there's an answer it's in the qualities of the generous, wise and funny prose. There's a value here that pierces our pretensions and points to something more, something humane (friendship, compassion, care, love) that we can cherish even in the very midst of catastrophe and crises. Oh and also laughter! A wonderful read. Here's a passage that for me gleams with that vein of wry and humane wisdom that's Nunez's voice for me: "Golden hour, magic hour, l'heure bleue. Evening when the beauty of the changing sky made us both go still and dreamy. Sunlight falling at an angle across the lawn so that it touched our elevated feet, then moved up our bodies like a long slow blessing, and I found myself a breath away from believing that everything was as it should be. See the moon. Count the stars. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end (Joyce). Infinitely rich, infinitely beautiful. Everything was going to be all right".

  10. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I stress-read The Friend because I was worried about the dog, so it was nice to settle into this. It has the kind of meandering interiority I love and frankly, any book that gives voice to the cat mid-chapter is a book I want to read. This got a lot of Cusk comparisons but all that talk of dying and what it means to have a good death reminded me of Beauvoir’s A Very Easy Death.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Will

    4.5, rounded up

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    This is fantastic - deceptively simple writing that's sharp and funny, insightful and incisive, wise and clear-eyed. Nunez is tackling big topics: death, of course, but also friendship and memory and grief and life. I wasn't completely won over by The Friend or The Last of Her Kind, but this is the book that has convinced me. This is fantastic - deceptively simple writing that's sharp and funny, insightful and incisive, wise and clear-eyed. Nunez is tackling big topics: death, of course, but also friendship and memory and grief and life. I wasn't completely won over by The Friend or The Last of Her Kind, but this is the book that has convinced me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kelli

    This is a very slim book that took me far too long to finish and I really don't know why. It was sadder than I expected, and a bit disjointed. I didn't do myself any favors taking long breaks between reading. Maybe this is meant to be read in one sitting? 3 stars This is a very slim book that took me far too long to finish and I really don't know why. It was sadder than I expected, and a bit disjointed. I didn't do myself any favors taking long breaks between reading. Maybe this is meant to be read in one sitting? 3 stars

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    A perfect follow-up to The Friend and very similar in some ways: again we have the disparate first-person musings of an unnamed narrator compelled to help a friend. In Nunez’s previous novel, the protagonist has to care for the dog of a man who recently killed himself; here she is called upon to help a terminally ill friend commit suicide. The novel opens in September 2017 in the unfamiliar town she’s come to for her friend’s cancer treatments. While there she goes to a talk by an older male aut A perfect follow-up to The Friend and very similar in some ways: again we have the disparate first-person musings of an unnamed narrator compelled to help a friend. In Nunez’s previous novel, the protagonist has to care for the dog of a man who recently killed himself; here she is called upon to help a terminally ill friend commit suicide. The novel opens in September 2017 in the unfamiliar town she’s come to for her friend’s cancer treatments. While there she goes to a talk by an older male author who believes human civilization is finished and people shouldn’t have children anymore. This prophet of doom is her ex. His pessimism is echoed by the dying friend when she relapses. The narrator agrees to accompany her to a rental house where she will take a drug to die at a time of her choosing. “Lucy and Ethel Do Euthanasia,” the ex jokes. And there is a sort of slapstick joy early in this morbid adventure, with mishaps like forgetting the pills and flooding the bathroom. As in Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, the voice is not solely or even primarily the narrator’s but Other: her friend speaking about her happy childhood and her estrangement from her daughter; a woman met at the gym; a paranoid neighbor; a recent short story; a documentary film. I felt there was too much recounting of a thriller plot, but in general this approach, paired with the absence of speech marks, reflects how the art we consume and the people we encounter become part of our own story. Curiosity about other lives fuels empathy. With the wry energy of Jenny Offill’s Weather, this is a quiet novel that sneaks up to seize you by the heartstrings. “Women’s stories are often sad stories,” Nunez writes, but “no matter how sad, a beautifully told story lifts you up.” Like The Friend, which also ends just before The End, this presents love and literature as ways to bear “witness to the human condition.” Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Possibly in Michigan, London

    4.5 I probably wouldn’t have started reading this if I knew it was about terminal illness and euthanasia but erm, I’m glad I did? Love the narratorial voice - felt v autofictional but also fleshy at the same time. Lots of thoughts about death and changing feelings which felt situated in experience/the story’s moment rather than written to be quoted Would love to know if the anti-natalist ex is David Rieff? Recognised the (quite mean) portrait of Jean Stein, who at least had good taste in assistan 4.5 I probably wouldn’t have started reading this if I knew it was about terminal illness and euthanasia but erm, I’m glad I did? Love the narratorial voice - felt v autofictional but also fleshy at the same time. Lots of thoughts about death and changing feelings which felt situated in experience/the story’s moment rather than written to be quoted Would love to know if the anti-natalist ex is David Rieff? Recognised the (quite mean) portrait of Jean Stein, who at least had good taste in assistants (both Nunez and Ottessa Moshfegh?!)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Sigrid Nunez has a talent for writing deep introspective works claiming to be novels, but which address so much, presenting them against backgrounds that give gravitas to the matters. The framework here is a writer who has agreed to remain at a friend's side as that friend faces her cancer-driven mortality. But there are so many threads interwoven through a ill-attended lecture, many conversations that end up being meaningful with people who leave the stage soon after, and of course, between the Sigrid Nunez has a talent for writing deep introspective works claiming to be novels, but which address so much, presenting them against backgrounds that give gravitas to the matters. The framework here is a writer who has agreed to remain at a friend's side as that friend faces her cancer-driven mortality. But there are so many threads interwoven through a ill-attended lecture, many conversations that end up being meaningful with people who leave the stage soon after, and of course, between the two unnamed protagonists -- conversations about the big issues of today between two friends of such long standing that you'd think they had nothing more to say to one another. Proof of the enduring power of long time friendship.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    What a way to end the reading year. I'll be thinking about this book for a good long while. What a way to end the reading year. I'll be thinking about this book for a good long while.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Celia

    Thoughts on helping a friend through cancer. Very readable and compelling. Memory, companionship, friendship. All characters are unnamed. Makes the experience more personal. One of these people could be me. Thoughts of death - which I am sure we all have. Many quotable quotes p. 27 Flaubert: To think is to suffer. Aristotle: To perceive is to suffer. Hitchcock: Always make the audience suffer as much as possible. Sylvester the Cat: Sufferin' succotash. 5 stars Thoughts on helping a friend through cancer. Very readable and compelling. Memory, companionship, friendship. All characters are unnamed. Makes the experience more personal. One of these people could be me. Thoughts of death - which I am sure we all have. Many quotable quotes p. 27 Flaubert: To think is to suffer. Aristotle: To perceive is to suffer. Hitchcock: Always make the audience suffer as much as possible. Sylvester the Cat: Sufferin' succotash. 5 stars

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    A novel in conversations, this reminded me a lot Rachel Cusk's Outline trilogy and the recent Topics of Conversation. Our female protagonist visits a friend who has cancer, and while early conversations are between people she encounters on this trip - her Airbnb host, a stranger she meets near her apartment - the latter parts of the book are made up of discussions with said friend she is visiting. I think readers who enjoyed the other books I've mentioned as well as Nunez's last offering (The Fri A novel in conversations, this reminded me a lot Rachel Cusk's Outline trilogy and the recent Topics of Conversation. Our female protagonist visits a friend who has cancer, and while early conversations are between people she encounters on this trip - her Airbnb host, a stranger she meets near her apartment - the latter parts of the book are made up of discussions with said friend she is visiting. I think readers who enjoyed the other books I've mentioned as well as Nunez's last offering (The Friend) will find something to enjoy here. The writing is smart and the observations often poignant without verging on sentimentality, particularly those about death and dying. Fair warning that there is a brief segment with a talking cat (in cat that isn't your thing). Thank you Netgalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    I wish I could talk about this book with someone who's read it. Like most books about dying, it leaves you feeling unmoored and adrift in existential thoughts. Nunez had distilled this extremely layered experience of watching a loved one suffer illness and decide to die into a short volume that is as affecting as it is brief. Oh and there's a section from the viewpoint of a cat so...points for that. I wish I could talk about this book with someone who's read it. Like most books about dying, it leaves you feeling unmoored and adrift in existential thoughts. Nunez had distilled this extremely layered experience of watching a loved one suffer illness and decide to die into a short volume that is as affecting as it is brief. Oh and there's a section from the viewpoint of a cat so...points for that.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Crystal Hicks

    Nunez quotes Simone Weil, “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, ‘What are you going through?’” But she could have just as easily quoted Sartre, “Hell is other people.” Nunez conveys the daily anguish of attempting to communicate with those around her, from her character’s most intimate friends to total strangers. None of the characters are named. The main character is merely “the woman” and the other characters defined according to her relationship with hyp Nunez quotes Simone Weil, “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, ‘What are you going through?’” But she could have just as easily quoted Sartre, “Hell is other people.” Nunez conveys the daily anguish of attempting to communicate with those around her, from her character’s most intimate friends to total strangers. None of the characters are named. The main character is merely “the woman” and the other characters defined according to her relationship with hyphen. And isn’t that remarkably spot on about the human condition? In many ways, the people and places we know cease to exist when we aren’t interacting with them. The lack of character names serves to anonymize them, while making their relationship to the main character somehow more meaningful. That same lack foregrounds the reader’s empathy and encourages us to identify with the character. Furthermore, the writer quotes extensively from philosophers and other thinkers. The novel is grounded with all the weight of historical minds, while sharply contrasting with the nameless characters. We know the details about these dead people, but have to strain to tease apart the complexities of the fictional characters.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Sigrid Nunez, who are you and where have you been all my life? This slim almost novella clicked all the boxes for me: first-person narrator/observer, female friendship, and "older" age. The unnamed narrator visits a friend who is in a cancer ward in an unknown city; not a really close friend, but a longtime friend. What unfolds through the book, which discusses everything from nostalgia to ex lovers to books and old movies, leads the reader to think about end of life and what is waiting at the en Sigrid Nunez, who are you and where have you been all my life? This slim almost novella clicked all the boxes for me: first-person narrator/observer, female friendship, and "older" age. The unnamed narrator visits a friend who is in a cancer ward in an unknown city; not a really close friend, but a longtime friend. What unfolds through the book, which discusses everything from nostalgia to ex lovers to books and old movies, leads the reader to think about end of life and what is waiting at the end and beyond. This book is going to stay with me for a while, I thought about it on my walk today and know I'll be thinking about it for some time. Excellent, and I'm going to seek out more of her books. And note the no question mark in the title. Is it a question or a statement? That got me thinking too.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Read any one of these meandering diatribes thinly disguised as book reviews and you’ll see I have little, if nothing, to hide. That I’m an – excuse the terrible pun – open book. Laying it all out there is my Goodreads modus operandi as it is in real life, a transparency some may find overdone and many would never consider reciprocating. And that’s a-okay with me; I don’t expect everyone to overshare with a bunch of strangers. So why do I? Well, it’s simple. I’m on the belief that we, as a society Read any one of these meandering diatribes thinly disguised as book reviews and you’ll see I have little, if nothing, to hide. That I’m an – excuse the terrible pun – open book. Laying it all out there is my Goodreads modus operandi as it is in real life, a transparency some may find overdone and many would never consider reciprocating. And that’s a-okay with me; I don’t expect everyone to overshare with a bunch of strangers. So why do I? Well, it’s simple. I’m on the belief that we, as a society, need to talk more. I don’t mean post 25 videos a day of you grocery shopping with running commentary on each item purchased; I mean good old conversation, something concrete that results in getting to know the person you’re speaking with. Or, at a minimum, sparking inspiration for those on the receiving end to open up. Truth be told, yours truly is going through some monumental shit at the present time. For risk of totally oversharing (I do have my boundaries, contrary to popular belief), I’ll provide the broad strokes both for context and, really, to open up our very own conversation amidst what will ultimately be a review (I promise) of Sigrid Nunez’s splendid novel, What Are You Going Through. You see, I’m coming to grips with the fact that despite having been her son for over four decades, I never really knew my mother. Nor will I ever, as her mind is now completely gone, having been replaced by an imposter figure nothing like the woman who raised and nurtured me. It’s what was thought to be a rapid descent into madness, an extension of the Parkinson’s she’s battled for the last dozen or so years. Recent discoveries, however, tell a different story, one I’d never been made privy to because of a lack of communication that had become all but commonplace within my family. My folks never opened up to my brother and me. I know this was out of protection, to guard us from all of the bad things in life in favor of the good. And while I understand and, in a way, admire their intentions, it’s now starting to backfire on them, and on us. It turns out my mother had been harboring a secret – likely many secrets, actually – for the better part of my life, to which I am only now discovering. It’s sad, really, because I’ll never know just exactly what it was that was troubling her, if I could’ve provided the help she needed in some way, shape or form. It’s even sadder knowing that now, in the twilight of her life, it’s too late to make up for lost time. All this aside, these discoveries do explain a lot; not just about my mother’s past behavior, but that of my own. My personality quirks, my social anxieties, my all-or-nothing emotional reactions. They’d been practically instilled since birth, and at times were reasons why I’d been considered “weird” when compared to other kids growing up. Silly of me to think it was just because I wore glasses. That being said, I suppose these discoveries also explain why I became who I am today. College didn’t just open my eyes to a world wholly unlike the sheltered bubble in which I was raised, but to people willing to share their experiences in exchange for your own. It’s commonly called “conversation” but to me it seemed foreign at the time; I realized then I never really “talk talked” to any of my childhood friends and family members. They already knew me, what more could I share? So, to say that I’d find myself blown away after having a deep heart-to-heart discussion with a person I’d only known for a few hours would be quite the understatement. Better still, it was also character-defining. I became what Sigrid Nunez refers to as “a real Scheherazade,” which is to say a storyteller. That’s not to say I wasn’t capable of being one before – I’d been writing stories since I was a wee lad – it was that I’d yet to find my voice. And by that I don’t mean tone, or point of view; I mean me, myself and I, offered on a silver platter. I didn’t just present who I was, or what I was thinking or feeling just to get things off of my chest, but to facilitate conversation, learn through the experiences of people other than myself. Because I am of the belief that without communication one cannot feel or experience a life in full. I imagine the narrator in What Are You Going Through would agree, at least in part. Unnamed and unmarried, she is a writer who upon visiting a friend with a terminal illness is asked to assist her in her death. A dark premise, indeed, but one that sparks light – or rather lights, plural – in the form of the many stories the woman shares about her own mortality, about grief, about what it means to live when knowing we all die. Each of the characters we meet through her retellings is experiencing the fullness of life, oftentimes in the most ordinary of ways. The novel opens with our narrator, out of town visiting the aforementioned sick friend, having a chance encounter with her ex-lover, a prominent author, at a talk he’d been giving near where she’d been staying. Nunez subtly reveals little details about their relationship, fluidly flashing back to their time together in remarkably seamless fashion. You almost immediately gain a sense of what their relationship was like when together, yet never question as to why they’re apart in present day. Nunez’s ability to succinctly encapsulate their history so comprehensively was jaw-dropping. Turns out this would set the tone, for each story that followed, whether it be a thoughtful retelling or a current conversation, demonstrated a fullness that would be arguably impossible to achieve without communication. Our narrator offers ordinary tales about extraordinary moments of grief, of regret, of curiosity, of empathy, served via a chorus of voices that begin as strangers but immediately become familiar, if not familial. I didn’t think it would ever be possible to connect with so many characters in such a little amount of space; What Are You Going Through’s 210 pages felt 4 times its size. What’s more the novel evoked an array of emotions; be it happiness or sorrow, compassion or callousness, nary a feeling was spared. But where What Are You Going Through ultimately left me was feeling bittersweet, which I suppose is fitting given the bittersweetness of life itself. Moreover, this feeling perpetuated when applied to my own situation, the conversation I’ll never be able to have with my mother in any place other than my own mind. I know just how it would’ve gone: “Mama, tell me everything.”

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Blankfein

    A unique story about a woman, her interactions with others, her relationships and how they change over time. Thoughtful and thought provoking with wonderful observations and humor as it presents itself, Sigrid Nunez shows us her wonderful writing once again. Full review to come on Book Nation by Jen.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Not a fan. I think it was the weird organization of the story and lack of a flowing plot. I get what the author is trying to do. I just didn’t care for it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Maggie Rotter

    Sigrid Nunez has fashioned a novel that takes on unanticipated meaning in these pandemic days of distance from friends and strangers alike. The reader is back in a world where it is possible and usual to interact with acquaintances face to face . It is possible but less usual to find a relationship deepening in a surprisingly intimate direction and to a level that challenges each person's humanity. The Friend shows relationship through one prism. What You Are Going Through moves to a different v Sigrid Nunez has fashioned a novel that takes on unanticipated meaning in these pandemic days of distance from friends and strangers alike. The reader is back in a world where it is possible and usual to interact with acquaintances face to face . It is possible but less usual to find a relationship deepening in a surprisingly intimate direction and to a level that challenges each person's humanity. The Friend shows relationship through one prism. What You Are Going Through moves to a different view and the reader is well rewarded by minimal foreknowledge of the goings on.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy

    Sigrid Nunez's new book features an unnamed and undescribed narrator's conversations and interactions with a number of people she comes in contact with. People in her apartment building, people at her gym, random people that she meets, an ex-lover. I say the narrator is undescribed but we know she is a writer in late middle age and she's having trouble writing. She gathers these stories of the people that she talks with and perhaps if she's lucky, they will someday evolve into a narrative that t Sigrid Nunez's new book features an unnamed and undescribed narrator's conversations and interactions with a number of people she comes in contact with. People in her apartment building, people at her gym, random people that she meets, an ex-lover. I say the narrator is undescribed but we know she is a writer in late middle age and she's having trouble writing. She gathers these stories of the people that she talks with and perhaps if she's lucky, they will someday evolve into a narrative that the writer can put on paper. The main conversation, or series of conversations, that she has is with a friend who is terminally ill with cancer. The friend had fought cancer for years and had been in remission for a while but now the disease has come back and the medical profession holds out no hope for her recovery. The friend has decided to take her own life but she wants someone to be with her or at least be in the next room when she does it. She has chosen the narrator as that person and asks her to be present in the house when she takes the pills that will see her out. Well, what would you do in such circumstances? Do you acquiesce to the friend's request or do you say no? Either answer offers a moral conundrum and possible pitfalls, including, of course, the chance that you might be charged as an accessory or even for manslaughter if the police misconstrue the circumstances of the friend's death. The narrator weighs all of this and eventually decides to aid her friend. The friend will leave a note explaining that she is committing suicide on her own and without help from anyone and the narrator will just be present in another room of the house. And so we get the narrator relating her conversations and interactions over a period of time with her dying friend. Meanwhile, her friend searches for a house in which to end her life, preferably in a blue state. Yes, the political divide is a consideration even in this final decision. The action takes place in the current time and there are takes on the influence of Fox News especially on the elderly who watch it all day and on the #MeToo movement. The narrator talks to an elderly neighbor who opines that the country really dodged a bullet by failing to elect Hillary Clinton who she describes as "brazenly immoral and corrupt, a person who lied with every breath and was a complete incompetent to boot"! Her son worries that Fox has planted a chip in her brain. Then there is the discovery that Albert Einstein was prone to racist stereotyping in his private writing and was likely abusive to his wife and the narrator's friend remarks, "So I guess there goes the theory of relativity." In Nunez's previous book, The Friend, (which was wonderful) a big dog was on the cover and a central part of the story. In this one, there is a cat. The cat narrates its own story of being abandoned in a dumpster and then rescued to live a life of luxury with its savior. This is a novel about facing death and, as such, it has an air of sorrow about it, but at times it is also laugh-out-loud funny. When the friends rent an Airbnb in New England for the final scene, slapstick hilarity occasionally breaks out and they come to refer to it as a sitcom called "Lucy and Ethel Do Euthanasia." In fact, the title seems appropriate. This book feels very personal, almost as if the author has some experience with such a situation, or perhaps I'm reading too much into it. Nunez is a sensitive and talented writer with imagination to spare, so perhaps she's merely imagined what it would be like and she has written it so brilliantly that the reader, too, can feel what it must be like to be in such a situation. At one point, the narrator says, "The real reason I had agreed to help my friend was that I knew that, in her place, I would have hoped to be able to do exactly what she now wanted to do. I would not be able to escape the feeling that this was all a kind of rehearsal, that my friend was showing me the way." And that is exactly what good literature like this book does: It shows us the way to live humanely and with honor.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Megan O'Hara

    this is like if Outline wasn't annoying! the conversations were believable and were also things I happen to think a lot about so I really fuck with Sigrid this is like if Outline wasn't annoying! the conversations were believable and were also things I happen to think a lot about so I really fuck with Sigrid

  29. 5 out of 5

    Oscreads

    Sigrid Nunez has slowly become one of my favorite living authors writing today! This one was everything. I need more from her

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    "What draws the reader to the novel is the hope of warming his shivering life with a death he reads about, said Benjamin." pg 210, What Are You Going Through. Another stunning, pleasingly meandering dive into life (and dying). Has a bit of a Rachel Cusk vibe. "What draws the reader to the novel is the hope of warming his shivering life with a death he reads about, said Benjamin." pg 210, What Are You Going Through. Another stunning, pleasingly meandering dive into life (and dying). Has a bit of a Rachel Cusk vibe.

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