In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

IMG_1150“To know a new language, to immerse yourself, you have to leave the shore. Without a life vest. Without depending on solid ground.”

In Other Words is Jhumpa Lahiri’s first book written in Italian, a language she fell in love with and dedicated years to learning.  The book is uniquely done, with the original Italian text appearing on every left page and the English translation on the right.  The author shares  a very personal part of her life by not only taking us through her journey with Italian but also writing in the language as well.  The result is an honest and open piece of writing that not only captures the experience of learning a new language and the challenges that come with that, but also how it relates to identity and culture. 

“I believe that what can change our life is always outside of us.”

This is the first book I have read by Jhumpa Lahiri and can in no way compare it to her previous works, but I don’t feel it would be fair to do so in any case, as it is a completely new endeavour.  She followed her passion for a language and truly immersed herself, creating a written account of her experiences and feelings about the process.

As I have no working knowledge of Italian I could not truly appreciate the Italian text that was such a personal undertaking for the author.  However, the English translation is incredibly well done, and I feel it really captures the essence of the original writing.  I related to this book so much and found that it perfectly described the feelings, experiences, and frustrations of adopting a language.  If you have adopted new languages yourself or perhaps struggled with identifying with any one language or culture, you should definitely read this book.  I would also recommend it to anyone interested in languages as well as to fans of Jhumpa Lahiri, as it does provide a window into her life and approach to writing.

“… in the end to learn a language, to feel connected to it, you have to have a dialogue, however childlike, however imperfect.”

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