Saturday, February 27, 2016

#BookReview: In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

On the jacket:


From the Pulitzer Prize winner, a surprising, powerful, and eloquent nonfiction debut.  

In Other Words is at heart a love story—of a long and sometimes difficult courtship, and a passion that verges on obsession: that of a writer for another language. For Jhumpa Lahiri, that love was for Italian, which first captivated and capsized her during a trip to Florence after college. And although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterward, true mastery had always eluded her. So in 2012, seeking full immersion, she decided to move to Rome with her family, for “a trial by fire, a sort of baptism” into a new language and world.   

In Rome, Lahiri began to read, and to write—initially in her journal—solely in Italian. In Other Words, an autobiographical work written in Italian, investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice. Presented in a dual-language format, it is a book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with an intensity and clarity not seen since Nabokov. A startling act of self-reflection and a provocative exploration of belonging and reinvention.

Review:

For someone who has just started learning a foreign language, this book was a delight. Frankly, I cannot imagine learning the language and mastering it so well that I can write in it - even a diary entry of five sentences. In Other Words came up just when I had started to get restless wondering where Lahiri is, it's been pretty long since The Lowland. Well, the wait was well worth it!

In Other Words is very different from Lahiri's other stories. This is a love story between a person and a language. The depth here is unimaginable. Through multiple short essay like prose, Lahiri has described her stay in foreign, her journey of learning the new language and then implementing it in real life, trying to read in it and hold conversations. From venturing out armed with a dictionary to not needing it at all, the transition must have been one incredible experience. 

For someone who can write only in three languages, this attempt by Lahiri was a big deal. Though I read the English translation of it, the emotions of the journey of learning, mastering and writing in a new language seeped through the words. 

Having learnt and studied Italian for two decades, Lahiri lived in Rome for a while. And only after she stayed in the land, amidst its people, did she find out her comfort with the language. The book is autobiographical and I'd recommend it highly to all those who share my love for words.

Rating: ****.5/5


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