"Missed Translations"

A New York Times reporter traces a year of his life as he tries to find his parents, from whom he had become estranged, in a new memoir.

Sopan Deb

April 3, 2020

"Missed Translations"
"Missed Translations" book cover

Approaching his 30th birthday, Sopan Deb had found comfort in his day job as a writer for the New York Times and pursuing his passion as a comedian. But his stage material highlighting his South Asian culture only served to mask the insecurities borne from his family history. Sure, Deb knew the facts: his parents, both Bengali, separately immigrated to North America in the 1960s and 1970s. They were brought together in a volatile and ultimately doomed arranged marriage and raised a family in suburban New Jersey before his father returned to India alone.

But Deb had never learned who his parents were as individuals — their ages, how many siblings they had, what they were like as children, what their favorite movies were. Theirs was an ostensibly nuclear family without any of the familial bonds. Coming of age in a mostly white suburban town, Deb’s alienation led him to seek separation from his family and his culture, longing for the tight-knit home environment of his white friends. His desire wasn’t rooted in racism or oppression; it was in envy and desire — for white moms who made after-school snacks and asked his friends about the girls they liked and the teachers they didn't.