In Other Words
National Best Seller
From the best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winner, a powerful nonfiction debut—an “honest, engaging, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
In Other Words is a revelation. It 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. Although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterward, true mastery always eluded her.
Seeking full immersion, she decides to move to Rome with her family, for “a trial by fire, a sort of baptism” into a new language and world. There, she begins 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, this is a wholly original book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with an intensity and clarity not seen since Vladimir Nabokov: a startling act of self-reflection and a provocative exploration of belonging and reinvention.
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.