They Called Us Exceptional: And Other Lies That Raised Us (Hardcover)
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“In this vulnerable and courageous memoir, Prachi Gupta takes the myth of the exceptional Indian American family to task.”—The Washington Post
“I read it in one sitting. Wow. It aims right at the tender spot where racism, sexism, and family dynamics collide, and somehow manages to be both searingly honest and deeply compassionate.”—Celeste Ng, New York Times bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere
A SHE READS BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE SEASON: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Bustle
How do we understand ourselves when the story about who we are supposed to be is stronger than our sense of self? What do we stand to gain—and lose—by taking control of our narrative?
Family defined the cultural identity of Prachi and her brother, Yush, connecting them to a larger Indian American community amid white suburbia. But their belonging was predicated on a powerful myth: the idea that Asian Americans, and Indian Americans in particular, have perfected the alchemy of middle-class life, raising tight-knit, high-achieving families that are immune to hardship. Molding oneself to fit this image often comes at a steep, but hidden, cost. In They Called Us Exceptional, Gupta articulates the dissonance, shame, and isolation of being upheld as an American success story while privately navigating traumas the world says do not exist.
Gupta addresses her story to her mother, braiding a deeply vulnerable personal narrative with history, postcolonial theory, and research on mental health to show how she slowly made sense of her reality and freed herself from the pervasive, reductive myth that had once defined her. But tragically, the act that liberated Gupta was also the act that distanced her from those she loved most. By charting her family’s slow unraveling, and her determination to break the cycle, Gupta shows how traditional notions of success keep us disconnected from ourselves and one another—and passionately argues why we must orient ourselves toward compassion over belonging.
About the Author
Prachi Gupta is an award-winning journalist and former senior reporter at Jezebel. She won a Writers Guild Award for her investigative essay “Stories About My Brother,” and her work was featured in the Best American Magazine Writing of 2021. She has written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post Magazine, Marie Claire, Salon, Elle, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City.
“In this vulnerable and courageous memoir, Prachi Gupta takes the myth of the exceptional Indian American family to task . . . [her] resilience and her hope to be fully seen are an inspiration in both personal and political terms.”—The Washington Post
“She explains better than any writer I’ve ever encountered how conflicts that may appear low-stakes—such as an argument over grades or extracurriculars—can tear open an unnavigable gulf. She does this while loving, and grieving, her formerly close family.”—The Atlantic
“They Called Us Exceptional is a marvel: a searingly honest memoir that manages to be at once a scalding indictment, and a heartfelt love letter. In its descriptions of the struggle to live authentically across two cultures, Gupta's book evokes W.E.B DuBois and Maxine Hong Kingston; in its exploration of how family psychopathology and cultural history entwine themselves across generations.”—Scott Stossel, national editor of The Atlantic and author of My Age of Anxiety
“I read it in one sitting. Wow. It aims right at the tender spot where racism, sexism, and family dynamics collide, and somehow manages to be both searingly honest and deeply compassionate.”—Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
“[Prachi] Gupta has penned one of the most gripping blends of memoir and reporting, writing a book whose page-turning is compelled as much by masterful macro-level storytelling as by memoir.”—Jina Moore Ngarambe for Guernica
“What happens when a person discovers that the American Dream is a virus? Gupta’s stunning and devastating debut contorts genre—existing as a disquisition on Asian American assimilation into the West, a bird’s-eye view of how patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy congealed to destroy a family, and a coming-of-age tale about a woman who had to fight to make space for her voice.”—Damon Young, author of What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker
“A memoir so honest and intimate, I felt I ought to look away. Gupta blasts through the imprisoning phrase Log kya kahenge—‘What will people say?’—and brings us into her life and her home with awe-inspiring courage, nuance, and intelligence.”—Diksha Basu, author of The Windfall
“Gupta has penned a gripping memoir that considers immigrant aspirations and tribulations alongside the heavy generational trauma of an immigrant parent leaving behind the known and the loved. With grace and dexterity, Gupta bravely interrogates not only the obvious but also the seething emotional territory that lies just beneath . . . A remarkable book that is both lyrical and brave.”—Rafia Zakaria, author of Against White Feminism
“Self-directed and accomplished . . . For readers interested in complicated, thoughtful and beautifully written family stories that explore the cost of the model-minority myth, this book is as good as it gets.”—BookPage
“Passionate . . . [Gupta’s] startling candor and willingness to confront painful truths make this sing. Readers who’ve broken free from toxic family dynamics—or are hoping to do so—will want to check it out.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“They Called Us Exceptional is a heartfelt memoir of love and dysfunction, an indictment of the premium America places on exterior markers of success, and a careful exploration of the legacies of institutionalized racism, family illness, and constrictive ideals of gender.”—Booklist