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Lost In Translation: A Life in a New Language

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,269 Ratings  ·  127 Reviews
In 1959 13-year-old Eva Hoffman left her home in Cracow, Poland for a new life in America. This memoir evokes with deep feeling the sense of uprootendess and exile created by this disruption, something which has been the experience of tens of thousands of people this century.

Her autobiography is profoundly personal but also tells one of the most universal and important nar
Paperback, 280 pages
Published November 6th 2008 by Vintage (first published January 23rd 1989)
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Apr 08, 2009 Caitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just read this book for a humanities class centered around the idea of translation, literally and metaphorically. It is the author's memoir of growing up in post-war Poland and immigrating to America as a teenager, which is interesting enough for the insight into Polish culture and philosophy provided. But beyond that, this book is exciting because it is nothing like what you would expect of an immigrant story-- she focuses her story around the role of language in experience, and the effects o ...more
Nov 05, 2013 Jessie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, spirit
The most thoughtful book I’ve read in some time, a highly introspective memoir that is about so many, many things, especially language and its relationship to self. Hoffman emigrates from Poland to Canada at age 13 and her insights speak into the life of anyone who has experienced a fundamental life-rupture after which there is no unity possible, but only a new composite self – she speaks to the way that it’s possible for us to say “I am here now” in a new experience, after we have lost ourselve ...more
Ellen Keim
Jan 08, 2015 Ellen Keim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book wasn't easy to find. It was first published in 1989 and I finally found an old paperback copy at a small library near my city. And in many ways this did seem old-fashioned. Today's young readers are not as interested in stories about people who lived through and raised families after the Holocaust. The writing itself is richly layered but maybe because of that, it is not an easy read. The author painstakingly takes us on a tour of her life as seen through the lens of her experience of ...more
Feb 07, 2014 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Came across this book in a weird way: the first page used to be a Critical Reading passage in one of the old SAT practice books. I'd always liked the passage (though the questions were unrepresentatively easy), but this goes back a number of years. Went to Book Revue in Huntington, browsed through literary remainders, and read the back cover. "Hmmm," I thought. "Wonder if this is the phantom reading passage?" Indeed.

Hoffman often writes beautifully and always thoughtfully; I sort of struggle bet
Jul 12, 2007 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was a shoe-in: descriptions of Krakow, the Polish language, reflections on bilingualism and the experience of a new culture. Hoffman writes beautifully and with remarkable insight.

Surprisingly, I felt that this book gave me more insight into Poles than Americans. I expected to hear a different perspective on American culture, and I did, but I also feel that the contrast between Polish and American women was instructive. Despite having lived in Poland for a year after graduating from c

Anna Vincent
Sep 23, 2014 Anna Vincent rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All interested in psychology & self-analysis, expats, lovers of lit & poetic, uncanny descriptions
Shelves: memoirs
This book is about the experiences and complex thoughts, feelings, and realizations of an expatriate, and I would heavily recommend it to any expatriate—wherever from, wherever to. But I would also recommend it to any one who knows what this means:
“Sometimes I long to forget… It is painful to be conscious of two worlds” (Hoffman, P. 163).

To anyone who knows what it is to have transformed from one thing to another—the discomfort, that feeling of never being able to settle within one’s self in re
This is a special book but I wonder if, at times, it is a little too heavy and over-cooked - hence my three stars instead of more! This autobiographical memoir deals with Hoffman’s emigration from Cracow, Poland to North America at the age of thirteen. I have read other works by Hoffman, namely Shtetl, and finds that she deals with both culture and the Jewish exodus from parts of Europe more than well and in an extremely educational manner. The sub-title to this book is “A Life in a New Language ...more
Oct 18, 2014 Maud rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiographical
I read this book for my Life and Travel Writing class, and though I went into it with a neutral mindset, this soon changed. Lost in Translation is the most unpleasant book I've read in a while.

One of my problems was with its writing style. Eva Hoffman's habit of using unusual words in unusual contexts threw me off, and I repeatedly found myself thinking: why go out of your way to construct a long, convoluted sentence with lots of polysyllabic words if you're not sure you're using them correctly?
Lukasz Pruski
Oct 31, 2014 Lukasz Pruski rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eva (originally Ewa) Hoffman's autobiographical book "Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language" is the fourth great book about childhood and growing up that I have read recently. It belongs in such a distinguished company as James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", John Coetzee's "Boyhood", and Amelie Nothomb's "Loving Sabotage". It is perhaps not as deeply intellectual as Joyce's work, not as fiercely social and political as the Coetzee's book, and not as utterly charming as ...more
Rob Slaven
The back of the book describes it as ‘graceful and profound’ and I will say simply that that is far too succinct a summation to be absolutely accurate. While the book does have a lot of interesting things to say about society and language and the complexities of moving between them it lacks a strong thread to bind the whole together. The narrative is a mind-bogglingly featureless one that fails to ever really grasp the reader’s attention. I found my mind wandering every few paragraphs and it was ...more
Sep 19, 2014 Joani rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed discussing this book at a local library last night. This is the first in a series of memoirs we will be reading over the course of the next several months. The theme for this book group is "Growing Up Between Cultures." In her memoir, Eva Hoffman gives us a detailed (and closely examined) accounting of her experience as a post-war emigre from Poland. While the writing is intelligent, it does present some abrupt transitions in time as well as sometimes cumbersome and awkward sentence st ...more
Edward Ferrari
Nov 09, 2013 Edward Ferrari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read some reviews that mentioned they didn't like the overly rhetorical - as they saw it - style. In places it's impossible to disagree that this highly personal odyssey depends on exaggerated rhetorical overtures to maintain its emotional integrity. I didn't find it easy to read. I found it made me challenge my own assumptions. Made me quite uncomfortable at times. But I was interested in the subject, felt them to overlap with my life and feel now that I have helped explain some of those thin ...more
Apr 18, 2008 Andrés rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Up until the last 20 pages this book was excellent. However, those last 20 pages were barely readable mush, an unfortunate end to an otherwise great examination of the importance of language in a person's life. This is not a memoir of what it means to learn a second language, but of what it means to live in a second language. The difference is crucial since the moment we learn our first language is the moment it becomes impossible to disentangle life from language. To move into a new language is ...more
Lucetta Jenkins
Aug 29, 2014 Lucetta Jenkins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I never thought to compare myself with a Jewish Polish immigrant 20 years my senior and yet so much of what she expresses rings poignantly true for me and explains much about my own inarticulate struggle on a new and unfamiliar continent.It's hard to believe English isn't her first language, she has a mastery at wielding it that touches all the senses at once. Beautiful writing.
Overall, I enjoyed this book; I liked the strange theme about translation, and I generally like these multi-cultural, immigrant-negotiating-a-new-place stories.

I hated how reptitive she was. She writes these really interesting sentences to describe things. Like she used the term "oblique angles" to describe someone's face. I liked that, until, less than two paragraphs later, she used the exact same term to describe something completely different. And then again, a few pages later. If you write s
Allison Cooper
Sep 30, 2012 Allison Cooper rated it it was amazing
Lyrical and intelligent. I thought this book was deeply profound and appreciated Hoffman's account of learning a new language as such an integral part of realizing her own identity (during her teen years and beyond, no less). With the acquisition of new language comes multicultural awareness — and awareness of our humanity and our individual place in a given culture, or cultures, and the world.

The small details here were as enlightening as the bigger epiphanies. One such example of the tenuous n
I'm kind of a sucker for immigrant memoirs. And I was just reminded through another reader's review of how much I liked 'The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit'. 'Lost in Translation', for me, lacked much of what made Sharkskin Suit so wonderful: connection to the family, to the place's history, and a narrator who I connected to. I loved the idea of 'Lost in Translation', and found much of it very interesting (especially the whole idea of how immigrants adapt in their new language). But ultimately ...more
May 09, 2009 Victoria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bologna
This book happened to be on the bookshelf of the exchange-student apartment Kate and I lived in during 2001-2002. I read every book on that shelf because English reading material was rare and expensive. This was one of the treasures. A stunningly detailed memoir about growing up one place and living in another place and language.

I always try to recommend this book to people and I hope more people have heard of it outside of the circles I run in... apparently Eva Hoffman is coming to Philadelphia
Aug 12, 2016 Catsalive rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016

Interesting & complex. Do we think differently in different languages? I wonder. I too was amazed at her inspection & analysis of every thought - even as a child? or only in looking back? Introspection isn't a bad thing, but to be examining everything you say & think can't be comfortable, in fact, I think it would make one extremely anxious. I can understand the culture shock but I've never considered language-shock before - most thought-provok
Jan 31, 2016 Juanita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Review: Lost In Translation by Eva Hoffman.

The book is an extremely soul searching memoir and a classical kind of journal of an upward mobility and learning process of thoughts and placement of words. It 19s also an insightful meditation on coming to terms with one 19s own uniqueness, on learning how deeply culture affects the mind and body, and what it means to accomplish a translation of one 19s self.

Eva Hoffman, born in Cracow, Poland in 1945, immigrated with her family to Vancouver, B.C. in
Dec 08, 2014 Maddie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
“Lost in Translation” Book Review
“Lost in Translation” is an autobiography by Eva Hoffman, who shares memorable stories about her life. The story takes place during the 1950’s, when she was a little girl to the 1970’s where she becomes a grown woman living life on her own. In present time, she is a woman living in New York, but is telling her story through flashbacks of how she misses her old life back in Cracow, Poland shortly after WWII while under Soviet Communism. Eva and her family move to
Sep 27, 2009 Bookstax rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-reads

It was hard not to skim through pages and pages of long descriptions, using large words for the sake of using large words. I can imagine that this writer has so much more interesting detail to tell about moving from Poland to Canada at age 13, but she chooses instead to tell me over and over and over again how she felt isolated. I wanted detail; I wanted stories. I had neither. It eventually made me bored...
Anya Argytaki
Mar 17, 2014 Anya Argytaki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Five stars from me, as this book has a lot of consonance with how I often struggle in filling the background gaps with people of my new reality, the gaps which are most evident through language.

"My American Friends are so many, and they share so many assumptions that are quite invisible to them, precisely because they’re shared. These are assumptions about the most fundamental human transactions, subcutaneous beliefs, which lie just below the stratum of political opinion or overt ideology: abou
May 01, 2013 ABC rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is not what I expected. Eva Hoffman writes almost nothing about learning English or living in two languages. Despite immigrating to Canada at age thirteen, she graduates as the valedictorian--and yet tells us nothing about that at all.
Anita Leila
Mar 01, 2016 Anita Leila rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: class
I had to read this book for school, which obviously made me dislike it a little more than if I'd read it for pleasure, probably, because I hate being forced to read books.

This notwithstanding, I still liked the book, as it gave me a fresh outlook on immigration and the conditions that force people into situations such as Hoffman's, a subject that was extremely relevant around the time that I was reading the book and that made me seriously reconsider a lot of uneducated notions that I had. For th
Eva Hoffman spent her early childhood in Cracow, Poland, then emigrated to Vancouver, Canada when she was 14. This book is her story about spending your adolescence in a new country, learning a new language, and studying literature as a student of English as a second language. Hoffman went to college, first in Texas and then at Harvard, in the 1960's, and she describes her experiences with the counterculture as a outsider.

The first half of the book describes Eva's life as a child in Cracow, wha
Mar 29, 2012 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Suffering and conflict are the best proof that there is something like a psyche, a soul; or else, what is it that suffers? Why would we need to suffer when fed and warm and out of the rain, were it not for that other entity within us making its odd, unreasonable, never fulfillable demands?"

"Right now, this is the place where I'm alive. How could there be any other place? Be here now, I think to myself in the faintly ironic tones in which the phrase is uttered by the likes of me. Then the phras
Robert Monk
Jan 23, 2008 Robert Monk rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: College students between freshman and sophomore years.
Recommended to Robert by: Sonoma State University, CA
Shelves: philosophy, language
Eva Hoffman's *Lost in Translation* powerfully integrates ideas
about language that have been consistently raised in modernist literature and in meta-texts by modernist writers. In it, Hoffman gives a psychoanalytic
description of identity's relation to language. As an immigrant, she gives
another, more sympathetic and compelling interpretation of something like Henry
James' anxiety and T.S. Eliot's hankering for a linguistic ground in tradition.
For Hoffman, a healthy self-identity depends upon an
Sep 27, 2013 Walton rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book tedious and too abstract to ever really engage me. There is no plot of any kind nor are many events in her life described in detail. She begins to describe a particular day or moment and often meanders off into abstraction and observations from other times and days. I found it impossible to keep track of how old she was or what stage of her life she was in. A bit off-putting when I thought she was still talking about being 4 and she is describing rolling around and kissing in a ...more
Sep 03, 2008 Kami rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really debated giving this book a three star rating, but settled on two mainly because the author seemed pretentious to me at times (mostly towards the end). My rating system is so arbitary anyway, it doesn't matter much. I did enjoy reading this book however. It was very interesting and clearly explained things I've noticed but had never quite put into words. I enjoyed her comparisons of culture and descriptions of American and Polish life. The brief stories of her parents surviving WWII as J ...more
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Eva Hoffman is a writer and academic. She was born Ewa Wydra July 1, 1945 in Cracow, Poland after her Jewish parents survived the Holocaust by hiding in the Ukraine. In 1959, during the Cold War, the thirteen years old Eva, her nine years old sister "Alinka" and her parents immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, where her name has been changed to Eva. Upon graduating from high school she received a scho ...more
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“Anger can be borne - it can even be satisfying - if it can gather into words and explode in a storm, or a rapier-sharp attack. But without these means of ventilation, it only turns back inward, building and swirling like a head of stream - building to an impotent, murderous rage.” 7 likes
“A woman should love with her mind. Let men love with their hearts.” 6 likes
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