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To Name the Bigger Lie: A Memoir in Two Stories (Hardcover)
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“Has the page-turning quality of a thriller.” —NPR
“Strange and wonderful…A book for our times.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Propulsive…mesmerizing…breathtaking.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This unforgettable memoir traces the ramifications of a series of lies that threaten to derail the author’s life—exploring the line between fact and fiction, reality and conspiracy.
In To Name the Bigger Lie, Sarah Viren “has pulled off a magic trick of fantastic proportion” (The Washington Post), telling the story of an all-too-real investigation into her personal and professional life that she expands into a profound exploration of the nature of truth. The memoir begins as Viren is researching what she believes will be a book about her high school philosophy teacher, a charismatic instructor who taught her and her classmates to question everything—eventually, even the reality of historical atrocities. As she digs into the effects of his teachings, her life takes a turn into the fantastical when her wife, Marta, is notified that she’s being investigated for sexual misconduct at the university where they both teach.
To Name the Bigger Lie follows the investigation as it challenges everything Sarah thought she knew about truth, testimony, and the difference between the two. She knows the claims made against Marta must be lies, and as she attempts to uncover the identity of the person behind them and prove her wife’s innocence, she’s drawn back into the questions that her teacher inspired all those years ago: about the nature of truth, the value of skepticism, and the stakes we all have in getting the story right.
An incisive journey into honesty and betrayal, this memoir explores the powerful pull of dangerous conspiracy theories and the pliability of personal narratives in a world dominated by hoaxes and fakes. An “ouroboros of a book” (The New York Times) and a “bold new approach to the genre of memoir” (The Millions), To Name the Bigger Lie also reads like the best of psychological thrillers—made all the more riveting because it’s true.
About the Author
Sarah Viren is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and author of the essay collection, Mine, a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. She is also the author of To Name the Bigger Lie, a New York Times Editors’ Choice. A National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, she teaches in the creative writing program at Arizona State University.
One of Cosmopolitan's Best LGBTQ+ Reads for Pride
One of Electric Literature's and The Millions' Most Anticipated
"Strange and wonderful…. A book for our times, when singular truths seem less certain with each passing day.”
—New York Times Book Review
"At the heart of this book are her attempts to reconcile her current identity with all of her previous selves, and to investigate whether the full truth is ever within reach."
—New York Times, 9 New Books Coming in June
"Viren ... has pulled off a magic trick of fantastic proportion. There are elements here of the classic thriller that function like a flock of seductive doves, released to distract the eye. All the while, her other hand is shuffling multiple shells that conceal a critical reading of Plato, an examination of the mechanics of memory, a study of the anatomy of a lie and an analysis of misinformation’s insidious creep ... Ever since Dr. Whiles introduced her to Plato’s allegory of the cave, the question “What is the sunlight?” has bedeviled Sarah Viren. In writing To Name the Bigger Lie, she practices the answer. It is poetry, such as Yevtushenko’s Babi Yar, which “in sharing that suffering” fights “to keep that truth from being erased or forgotten.” It is art. It is a book like this."
"The memoir has the page-turning quality of a thriller, but instead of tracking down culprits and solving mysteries, Viren methodically untangles knotty philosophical tensions in pursuit of what is real."
“An untangling of a web of lies and fake email accounts and false accusations that eventually leaves questions about the value of truth, the malleability of facts, and our responsibility to the truth… Viren's gift [is] making the stakes of philosophical questions pressing, for turning Plato and Socrates and Schopenhauer and Hannah Arendt into characters in her story about how to make sense of this world.”
"Even in the days after I’ve read the book, I’ve found myself haunted by what Viren reveals not just about her life, but all our lives...Viren takes the opportunity of these braided incidents to interrogate how our memories function, and show how memories that are technically accurate to us may not tell the whole truth."
—The Chicago Tribune
“Past and present collide in this propulsive, one-of-a-kind meditation on truth and conspiracy from Viren… Against the social and political instability of the last seven years, Viren seamlessly weaves her parallel narratives into a bigger picture take on the nature of truth. The result is a mesmerizing page-turner pulled tight with psychological tension. This is breathtaking stuff.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
“Both stories are gripping; they unfurl with a sense of suspenseful foreboding to show how lies can tear apart the fabric of everyday life and our most intimate relationships. But underlying them is a more groping, philosophical inquiry that chases the implications of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to probe our sense of what is real, how we know, and, most importantly, how we come to that knowledge together.”
—Booklist, STARRED review
"Immersive ... A compelling and propulsive memoir that interrogates the nature of trust and truth."
“A poignant musing on the changing nature of truth.”
"A thrilling, labyrinthine and ultimately illuminating reckoning with what it feels like to be caught up in a vortex of post-truth, conspiracy, and lies, Sarah Viren's To Name the Bigger Lie is a fascinating and deeply disturbing account of our contemporary age of weaponized falsehoods. That what most of us experience only through the news came for her life so personally makes for heart-in-throat reading. This is a memoir, yes, but it's also a view into a terrifying aspect of modernity, and Viren's ability to unspool complicated tangles for the reader is unparalleled."
—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body
"Sarah Viren’s To Name the Bigger Lie is a work of radical moral philosophy as much as a memoir of one woman’s confrontation with the seeming contradictions of certainty and doubt, truth and conspiracy, of the sometimes unbridgeable distance between the truth we know and the one we can prove. This is one of the most astonishing books I’ve ever read — a beacon in these uncertain times."
—Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Reckonings
“To Name The Bigger Lie is one of the most dynamic memoirs I’ve ever read. At the heart of this magnificent book is an incisive exploration of the concept of truth, a subject that, in an age of proliferating fake news, conspiracy theories, and coerced conflicts, couldn’t be more urgent.”
—Mitchell S. Jackson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Survival Math
"You don't expect a book on the nature of truth to be so darn readable. I could not put this down. It's like Schopenhauer meets Gone Girl. Viren chases into nightmarish places the rest of us try to avoid—she confronts shadows, emails monsters—and brandishes philosophers along the way to make sense of what's unfolding. A breathless and edifying read. You come out of this book different, and also more connected to who you once were."
—Lulu Miller, co-host of Radiolab and author of Why Fish Don't Exist
“A personal and philosophical deep dive into the world of fake news and conspiracy theories, this book takes on the big questions about truth with in-depth research, empathy and humor.”
—Toni Jensen, author of Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land
“I’ve never read anything like To Name The Bigger Lie. A thriller? A philosophy book? A craft book? A perspective like Sarah Viren’s is what’s been missing from the debates around truths vs conspiracy. Viren has written a masterpiece.”
—Javier Zamora, author of Unaccompanied and Solito