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Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,711 ratings  ·  159 reviews
This remarkable book is Eva Hoffman's personal story of her experiences as an emigre who loses and remakes her identity in a new land and translates her sense of self into a new culture and a different language.

The condition of exile is an exaggeration of the process of change and loss that many people experience as they grow and mature, leaving behind the innocence of
Paperback, 280 pages
Published March 1st 1990 by Penguin Books (first published January 23rd 1989)
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 ·  1,711 ratings  ·  159 reviews

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Nafiseh Mousavi
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sincere account of a migrant, translingual experience of being.
I've rarely identified with a narrator as much.
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 03, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Apr 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Lukasz Pruski
Oct 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
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

Anna Vincent
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Mar 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 29, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Nora Westgeest
Apr 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: uni
Ewa Hoffman's "Lost in Translation" is filled to the brim with beautifully phrased and vivid anecdotes of her childhood in Cracow, her immigration to Canada when she was thirteen, her university years in America and her settlement in New York as a New York Times editor. The immigrant experience is skilfully voiced through Hoffman's appropriation of the English language, and interweaved with the grapple of the obstacles of an American experience, identity, memory, and culture through the eyes of ...more
Melanie (Mel's Bookland Adventures)
Not really what I expected, but then memoirs are often unsatisfactory to me. I wanted to know more about linguistic experience which shapes the person. Also did not get on to well with the non-existent timeline.
Apr 13, 2016 rated it liked it
This book was on the required reading list for my Life and Travel Writing course.
The book gives some great insight into the life in a new language and culture.
My professor is Polish herself, so it was nice to learn from someone who identifies with Eva.
May 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
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.
Kayleigh Cassidy
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! Hoffman's has a unique skill at articulating discreet human emotions and her writers craft is otherworldly.

It is a journey through time, place and identity. A book for anyone who has ever felt exiled.
Rob Slaven
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
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 19, 2014 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Edward Ferrari
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Allison Frisch
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 09, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Sep 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
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...
Lucetta Jenkins
Aug 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Bob Brinkmeyer
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I need some time to digest this stunningly brilliant and immensely wise memoir that delves into the complexities of origins, language, and identity. The most insightful and rich book I've read in ages--I'm flat-out awestruck.
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I have spent the past 17 years teaching immigrants and the children of immigrants how to speak English and navigate through life in a new language and culture. I am also bilingual myself, though not an immigrant, so I thought this would be an interesting memoir with a generous side of socio-linguistics. That is not what this book is.

It starts out rather promising. I enjoyed the first section, a series of vignettes describing her childhood in Poland.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed the first part of this book, where Eva is a child in Krakow. You already get a sense of her posing and showing off, but her parents are interesting people, and win your sympathy as you read about how they supported each other and survived as Jews through WW2.

Postwar Krakow does really come to life, but once the family has to immigrate to Canada, when Eva is 13, the book turns into an endless, formless contemplation by Eva of Eva and her special traumas and wonderfulness. She is
Wayward Child
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an incredibly potent book, more than a mere immigrant autobiography, in which the author tries to reconcile the two versions of herself, personified by the two languages she uses, and to reduce the gap between the two. Migration has existed since forever, but migration in the modern sense of the word, since man invented nations and borders which separate different nations, is a topic of perpetual discussion, one which art keeps coming back to.
No one can truly know what it’s like, if one
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I may be a bit biased in my review, as I adored this memoir for I related to it to such an extent (from her experiences in comparing Polish culture to North American culture for we had the exact same immigration from Poland to Canada). I thought Hoffman touched upon a life experience that is rarely if ever, discussed. Not unique to Polish immigration, but to immigration as a whole, and how frustratingly difficult this type of move is. Though it focuses more on the development of the human ...more
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500 Great Books B...: Lost in Translation - Eva Hoffman 1 14 Jul 13, 2014 08:20PM  

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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 ...more
“A woman should love with her mind. Let men love with their hearts.” 9 likes
“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.” 8 likes
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