Bella! In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

In Other Words


When Jhumpa Lahiri was in her twenties, she fell in love with Italian. Not An Italian. Italian, the language.

She spent the next several years bouncing from teacher to teacher in the United States trying to learn the language but never conquering it. Finally, she decided that the only way to really learn Italian was to live in Italy.

That's not a terrible idea. Immersion is supposed to be the best way to learn a language. Hearing a language and having to speak a language to be understood is a sort of trial by fire approach that works. However, for Lahiri she didn't just want to be understood, she wanted the language to become a part of her.

In Other Words is a memoir of Lahiri's love affair with the language. She describes it that way herself: a love affair and later on an infant that she must protect and nurture. Why she fell so hard for Italian is a mystery to me. She just did. She became obsessed with it.

A child of immigrant parents, Lahiri never felt at home in either of her mother tongues: Bengali or English. By taking on Italian, she attempts to carve out a new identity, a new voice for her writing. She laments not feeling at home in any language, including Italian, but more herself in Italian. She vents her frustration at not being taken seriously, because she doesn't "look" Italian.

She articulates her struggles with the language through lovely metaphors. I loved her style of writing. This book was written in Italian, and translated to English (she explains that particular quirk early on). This adds another layer of intimacy that writing in English would have lost.

I've never read any of her other work, but enjoyed this very personal account of her time with Italian. I'll be looking for more books by her. This is a very short memoir- the second half of the book is in the original Italian.

Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein.

About the Audio: Jhumpa Lahiri reads her own words. Words she originally wrote in Italian. How weird must that have been? She reads the book first in English, then Italian. If you would like to hear how she sounds in Italian, here is your chance. I found that she sounded a bit stiff at first, in English, but then loosened up a bit as she went. Her Italian sounds lovely!

Thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

In Other Words

10 comments:

  1. Jhumpa Lahiri's writing is wonderful and I would love to read this... though the audio sounds tempting, too. I usually enjoy authors reading their own memoirs.

    I was impressed with Ann Goldstein's translations of Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan novels and would be happy to read her work again, too.

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    1. I'm curious about the Ferrante novels. I've heard nothing but good things about them.

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  2. This sounds so amazing! I'm a bit of a linguaphile myself so this sounds right up my street!! I haven't tried Lahiri yet either but I hear she's great.

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    1. Language is fascinating to me too. I think you'd like this.

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  3. This sounds quite interesting! When I was in my late teens/early twenties I inexplicably became fascinated by French, and I wound up minoring in it. I'm not sure I would say the language is a part of me, though.

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    1. YOu should check it out and see if you can relate to it!

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  4. What a different memoir. (Is it a memoir if it only covers one aspect of her life?) I can't say that this remotely interests me, but hey, she is tri-lingual which is more than almost everyone here in the U.S. I do find it interesting that she sounded stiff in English but less so in Italian. I have no idea what that means, but it is interesting.

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    1. It's definitely a memoir. It was interesting to me too and I wonder if it was because someone else had translated her words into English. I think that would throw me off if I was her.

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  5. Isn't it interesting the things that grab people! The way she just felt this pull toward Italian, rather than any of the other languages of the world, and went and pursued it -- that's so fascinating to me, how that happens to people.

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    1. I know I tend to go all in when I find a new hobby but never a language. I admire her ability to focus on that one thing. I get too distracted by other new and shiny ideas. I have so many projects on the go right now.

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