Jhumpa Lahiri, (Interpreter of maladies, The namesake,
Unaccustomed earth, The lowland) described by the Washington Post as “one of the most intellectually elegant novelists in the world”, has written her fifth novel, though for the first time in her third language – Italian.
Born of Indian parents, speaking Bengali for the first few years of her life, she grew up in America where English was the language of the world outside and the language in which she later gained fame as a writer. For her, (and this is revealed in several of her Indian-American characters), one’s language is essential to one’s identity and any kind of linguistic difference often creates a sense of displacement.
So, is it because of her linguistic past that she chose a third language to fall in love with and make her very own?
It seems that when on a visit to Italy in her twenties, the Italian language entranced her even though she couldn’t understand it. She then studied it for 20 years before fully immersing herself and her family in Rome in 2012. She gave up reading, writing and even speaking in English. And out of her notebooks on grammar and vocabulary, and essays on her struggles with learning the language, arose this memoir.
The English translation mirrors the original writing on each page, which makes reading this quite an unusual experience.
Though at times I found it a bit repetitive and self-indulgent (how many times can you read the pronoun “I” without getting fatigued?) it is still interesting and gorgeously written. And if you are a lover of the musical sounds of the Italian language, or if you are a speaker yourself, and would like to read this Pulitzer prize winning novelist in Italian, then I would certainly recommend it.
Title: In other words
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri; Ann Goldstein
Reviewed by Suneeta N, Highland Park Library
Suneeta N particularly enjoys biographies, travel stories and reading authors from around the world. She loves a good discussion and believes that everybody has a story worth telling.