A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
One of People Magazine‘s 10 Best Books of Fall

Editors’ Choice: 9 Recommended Books of the Week (New York Times), Best September Books (Entertainment Weekly), 16 Best Books of September (Kirkus), Best Books of Fall (Observer), 6 Best Books of September (Shondaland), 10 Most Anticipated Releases of September (HuffPost), Best Books of Fall (TIME), 21 Best Books of Fall (BuzzFeed), 5 Books Not to Miss (USA Today), Best Books of September (CNN), Best Books of 2020 (Harper’s Bazaar)

What Are You Going Through

Riverhead Books, Hardcover, September 8, 2020 / Paperback, September 7, 2021


A New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2020

One of People Magazine’s Top 10 Books of 2020

A Best Book of 2020: O,The Oprah Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, and NPR

A Pick of the Year’s Best Paperbacks, 2021, by The Sunday Times (UK) 


A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life. Some, like the old friend she goes to visit at a cancer clinic, are people she knows well; others are total strangers. All share a need to talk about themselves. The narrator orchestrates this chorus of voices, sometimes paraphrasing others’ stories, other times allowing them to speak, in extended monologues, for themselves. What emerges is a portrait of the way we live now, in a world endlessly troubled by crises, and the dramatically changing nature of human relationships in our time. For the most part, the narrator assumes the role of a passive listener to her collective storytellers. Then one of them surprises her with an extraordinary request, and she is drawn into what will become an intense and transformative experience of her own.

Praise for What Are You Going Through

“Love, death, friendship, compassion and so much wisdom. I just adore Sigrid Nunez.” Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water.

“It takes something more than intelligence to be able to write intelligently. It requires something closer to echolocation, an acute sense, in mid-flight, of where you are . . . . Whatever it is, Sigrid Nunez has it. When I open one of her novels, I almost always know immediately: This is where I want to be. . . . “What Are You Going Through” . . . [is] as good as “The Friend,” if not better.” The New York Times

“Rereading ‘What Are You Going Through,’ I was dazed by the novel’s grace: its creation of a narrative consciousness that, by emptying and extending itself to others, insured that its vitality would never dwindle, never dim. Nunez had captured what Woolf, in her exquisite story on aging, “The Lady in the Looking Glass,” describes as life’s ‘profounder state of being,’ ‘the state that is to the mind what breathing is to the body.’” The New Yorker

“Nunez tells the simplest of stories . . . and expands it into an exploration of the largest of themes: nothing less than the realities of living and dying in this world and how we feel about both. Beauty, friendship, nature, art: These are the salves to loneliness and despair, and Nunez offers them all in this searching look into life and death.” The New York Times Book Review

“A book as luminous as it is deep and as slippery as it is firmly grounded. As its narrator observes, ‘[N]o matter how sad, a beautifully told story lifts you up.’ ‘What Are You Going Through’ is as beautifully told as they come.” Seattle Times

“Emotionally intense and impossible to put down . . . leavened with wit and tenderness.” People Magazine

“Nunez’s prose is conspiratorial and elegant, whimsical and wise. Alongside a contemplation of mortality are winks: For all its pain and seriousness, life is absurd, comical; we humans are impossible to figure out—and yet so tender.” O, The Oprah Magazine

“It’s Nunez, long admired for her fearless, ruminative, sharply insightful work. . . . One’s moved by the scope and pith of this novel’s ambition, as it addresses our biggest questions by naming the particular. . . . But most striking may be how Nunez’s narrator transfigures, through deepening compassion, from a wry, circumspect observer into someone raked raw with hapless love for her vanishing friend. . . . It’s the here-and-now of ‘What Are You Going Through’ that spears us, its chorale-like testimonies, their preemptive requiem.” Washington Post

“[A] beautiful portrait of pain and loss.” TIME Magazine

What Are You Going Through is unflinching on the theme of mortality and thus presents an openhearted honesty so rare it feels thirst-quenching.” —The Paris Review

What Are You Going Through explicitly aims for and pretty much manages to hit all of William Faulkner’s prescribed goalposts for writers: ‘love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.’ Nunez has written another deeply humane reminder of the great solace of both companionship and literature.” NPR 

“There was a profound textual pleasure in The Friend and there is in What Are You Going Through, too. It’s not just that these books feel ‘real’ in that the things that happen in them could happen in life; the narrators’ struggle to think and write and make sense of these experiences feels real.” Bookforum 

“[A] touching, poignant illustration of what it means to have empathy for the lives around you. It is especially apt, given how the book is published during a time of collective mourning.” USA Today

“Nunez’s accounts are as sensitive as a polygraph’s needle, the precision of her observations turning banality itself into a source of pathos . . . . Among the keenest observers of the messiness of pity, compassion, and love, her writing takes ideas about how we should treat other beings seriously while never losing sight of the social conditions that make such work so complicated and hard.” Los Angeles Review of Books

“Nunez is both direct and yet incredibly subtle as she traces choices we make when faced with questions of sustainability and end of life care in this powerful novel.” Observer

“[A] digressive and surprisingly cheerful and funny tale . . . . crafted with consummate care . . . . with meditations on writing, the life of the mind, how we age, feminism, Me Too and our obligation to others.” The Sunday Times (UK) 

“A remarkable exploration of life and death, Sigrid Nunez’s novel is a quiet, almost meditative experience—and all the more powerful for it . . . . [Its] melancholy is tempered with humour and a revelatory appreciation of small moments of pleasure and friendship, perhaps the best way to be right now.” The Observer (UK)

“No moment is not fertile; nothing is insignificant as Nunez threads her connective material to give a riveting picture of friendship intensifying as it draws to a close. . . . All stories are love stories, she tells us. And few take us in so beautifully capacious a way to the place where this one ends.” Times Literary Supplement

“[A] gloriously meditative novel about friendship, death, and the bleak state of the world . . . . [A]lthough it encompasses so much sorrow, it is also a true pleasure to read, a novel bursting with wit, warmth, and human empathy.” The Independent

“[B]rilliant . . . . The narrative control of this novel simply dazzles. Nunez moves into and out of first and third person, past and present tense and direct and indirect speech as though she were shifting the gears of a Ferrari at full speed on a race track.” The Spectator

What Are You Going Through considers what it means to die well . . . . But as with The Friend, the book’s appeal lies less in the plot, such as it is, than in the wandering thoughts and insightful observations that it sets off.” The Economist

“This is not a book about empathy so much as respect for the unknowable . . . . It’s a mark of Nunez’s wisdom that she has created something witty and hopeful from characters who are surveying the closing stages of life.” Financial Times

“Nunez widens and narrows the focus of her lens, from the death of the world, to the death of a close friend and back again, with superb control. Her writing is taut, clear and insightful. Evening Standard

“Big questions about mortality and responsibility rebound through this philosophical novel . . . . [T]he result is . . . personable and invigorating, and delivered in intoxicatingly readable, washed-clean prose reminiscent of Rachel Cusk.” Daily Mail

“Profound, moving and brilliant.” Mail on Sunday

“At a time when the pandemic has made everyone feel unmoored, this book serves as a respite from modern anxieties. Spare in its emotional coherence, Nunez renders a graceful portrait of empathy amid chaos. This is a heartbreaking yet life-affirming book about the stress and solitude of being alive – a compassionate portrayal of life as we know it.” The Skinny

“Like its National Book Award-winning predecessor, The Friend, this exquisite portrait of female friendship, aging and loss packs more insight into its barely 200 pages than many serious novels twice that length.” BookPage

“Told with her singular sensitivity and wit, What Are You Going Through is a quietly powerful testament to Sigrid Nunez’s ability to render even the most emotionally ruinous events with intimacy and grace — there is no better chronicler of empathy . . . This book is profound, devastating and uplifting all at once.” Refinery29

“[A] richly interiorized novel. . . . With both compassion and joy, Nunez contemplates how we survive life’s certain suffering, and don’t, with words and one another.” Booklist, starred review

A deeply compassionate book about death, modern life, and human connection.” Harper’s Bazaar

“Sigrid Nunez orchestrates a beautiful chorus of humanness here, and the novel asks a question we might all be thinking in these distanced times: What does it mean to really be there for someone in times of hardship?” Literary Hub

“Deeply empathetic without being sentimental, this novel explores women’s lives, their choices, and how they support one another. . . . Highly recommended for readers who favor emotional resonance over escapism during difficult times.” Library Journalstarred review

“Nunez returns to many of the topics she mined in The Friend, which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2018: the meaning of life, the nature of death, writing, the purpose of friendship. [S]pare and elegant and immediate … the novel is concerned with the biggest possible questions and confronts them so bluntly it is sometimes jarring: How should we live in the face of so much suffering? Dryly funny and deeply tender; draining and worth it.” Kirkus, starred review

“Deceptively casual and ultimately fierce. . . .  Much of the novel’s action is internal, as the attention of its . . . narrator flicks from books to movies to sharp-edged thoughts about the people she encounters, offering plenty of surprises. Those willing to jump along with her should be tantalized by the provocative questions she raises.” Publishers Weekly