- ISBN-13: 9781101875551
- ISBN-10: 1101875550
- Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
- Publish Date: February 2016
- Page Count: 256
- Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.8 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-11-09
- Reviewer: Staff
Readers who have followed Pulitzer-winner Lahiri's stellar career might be surprised to discover that she has written her latest book in Italian. In this slim, lyrical nonfiction debut, Lahiri (The Lowland) traces the progress of her love affair with the Italian language and the steps that caused her to move to Italy and stop reading and writing in English. Unlike Samuel Beckett and Vladimir Nabokov, who also wrote in adopted languages, Lahiri doesn't leap directly into fiction. Though the book contains a short story, "The Exchange," Lahiri's first order of business is to tell her own story. She writes exquisitely about her experiences with language: her first language was Bengali, but when her family moved to the United States, she made a difficult adjustment to using English at nursery school. Now, she reports, her literary life in English seems distant and unmoored from her self. By embracing the increased difficulty of writing in a new language, Lahiri has forced herself to write in short, syntactically simple sentences. For admirers of her previous work, it will feel strange but pleasant to read her writing in translation. Lahiri's unexpected metamorphosis provides a captivating and insightful lesson in the power of language to transform. (Feb.)
Falling in love with a language
In her deeply personal new book, In Other Words, acclaimed novelist Jhumpa Lahiri notes that “writing in another language represents an act of demolition, a new beginning.” It’s a neat summing-up of what takes place in this brief, meditative memoir—Lahiri’s first work of nonfiction—as she shares the story of her passion for Italian and how she set out to master it.
Lahiri became enamored of Italian during her student days and studied the language somewhat casually in the years that followed. But her interest deepened over time, and in 2012 she moved with her family to Rome. Lahiri, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Interpreter of Maladies (1999), was also seeking a “new approach” to her art, and over the course of the narrative, it becomes clear that by unlocking the Italian language she makes unexpected discoveries about herself as a writer.
But the endeavor is a humbling one. Lahiri is candid about the difficulties she encounters in gaining command of a new language. When she attempts serious prose pieces in Italian, she finds that the process of composition as she has practiced it throughout her career no longer applies. “I’ve never tried to do anything this demanding as a writer,” she admits. “I’ve never felt so stupid.”
Lahiri’s many fans will not be surprised to learn that she succeeds in her linguistic undertaking. She wrote In Other Words in Italian, and it’s presented here in a dual-language format. As the narrative unfolds and the new language forces her to relearn the rudiments of her craft, she achieves her usual artistry and delivers an impassioned valentine to the most lyrical of languages.