NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Namesake delivers a powerful meditation on the process of learning to express herself in Italian—and the stunning journey of a writer seeking a new voice. • "The most evocative, unpretentious, astute account of a writing life I have read.” —The Washington Post
On a post-college visit to Florence, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri fell in love with the Italian language. Twenty years later, seeking total immersion, she and her family relocated to Rome, where she began to read and write solely in her adopted tongue. In Other Words is a startling act of self-reflection.
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.
Best advice, and inspiration, ever for learning a foreign language
This book contains some of the best advice ever on learning a foreign language (e.g., drop your English-Italian dictionary and start using Italian only Dictionaries! I took her advice and immediately found myself paying attention to first second and third meanings and word origins etc.; I started to learn the words in context and found that using an Italian-Italian dictionary makes reading in Italian more enjoyable).
It is also a lovely examination and example of how language helps us express ourselves and at the same time can get in the way of our attempts to do so (too many choices in your native language can lead to paralysis – solution? Change to another language where you only know one, or no, way to say what you want and you have to just do your best and move on).
Finally, I loved reading In Other Words in the dual translation iBooks version (click on the diamond icons to switch back-and-forth)– where I can highlight words that I do not know, set up iBooks to look them up in an Italian-only dictionary, and read in a foreign language at three times? the normal speed and depth of understanding.