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In Other Words

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From the Pulitzer Prize winner, a surprising, powerful, and eloquent nonfiction debut

In Other Words
 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. And although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterward, true mastery had always eluded her. So in 2012, seeking full immersion, she decided to move to Rome with her family, for "a trial by fire, a sort of baptism" into a new language and world. 

In Rome, Lahiri began 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, it is a book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with an intensity and clarity not seen since Nabokov. A startling act of self-reflection and a provocative exploration of belonging and reinvention. 

Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

From the Hardcover edition.

235 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 28, 2015

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About the author

Jhumpa Lahiri

84 books12.9k followers
Nilanjana Sudeshna "Jhumpa" Lahiri was born in London and brought up in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Brought up in America by a mother who wanted to raise her children to be Indian, she learned about her Bengali heritage from an early age.

Lahiri graduated from South Kingstown High School and later received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College in 1989. She then received multiple degrees from Boston University: an M.A. in English, an M.A. in Creative Writing, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She took up a fellowship at Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center, which lasted for the next two years (1997-1998).

In 2001, she married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a journalist who was then Deputy Editor of TIME Latin America Lahiri currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. She has been a Vice President of the PEN American Center since 2005.

Lahiri taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Much of her short fiction concerns the lives of Indian-Americans, particularly Bengalis.

She received the following awards, among others:
1999 - PEN/Hemingway Award (Best Fiction Debut of the Year) for Interpreter of Maladies;
2000 - The New Yorker's Best Debut of the Year for Interpreter of Maladies;
2000 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut Interpreter of Maladies

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Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews26 followers
September 8, 2021
In Altre Parole = In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri was born in London, the daughter of Indian immigrants from the Indian state of West Bengal. Her family moved to the United States when she was three.

From the Pulitzer Prize winner, a surprising, powerful and eloquent non-fiction debut.

In Other Words 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.

And although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterward, true mastery had always eluded her. So in 2012, seeking full immersion, she decided to move to Rome with her family, for "a trial by fire, a sort of baptism" into a new language and world.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «به عبارت دیگر»؛ «به دیگر سخن»؛ نویسنده: جومپا لاهیری؛ انتشاراتیها (ماهی؛ کوله پشتی، چشمه)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز چهاردهم ماه نوامبر سال 2016میلادی

عنوان: به عبارت دیگر؛ نویسنده: جومپا لاهیری؛ مترجم: امیرمهدی حقیقت؛ تهران، ماهی، 1395؛ در 140ص؛ شابک 9789642092727؛ موضوع فراگیری زبان ایتالیائی و سرگذشتنامه از نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م

عنوان: به دیگر سخن؛ نویسنده: جومپا لاهیری؛ مترجم: معصومه عسکری؛ تهران، کوله پشتی، 1395؛ در 160ص؛ شابک 9786008211082؛

عنوان: به عبارت دیگر؛ نویسنده: جومپا لاهیری؛ مترجم: محیا بیات؛ تهران، چشمه، 1395؛ در 99ص؛ شابک 9786002296764؛

لاهیری اهل «بنگال» هستند؛ در شهر «لندن» «بریتانیا» به دنیا آمده، و زبان انگلیسی آموخته، و زندگی کرده، و کتاب‌های خودشان را به زبان انگلیسی بنگاشته اند؛ کتاب با روایتی عاشقانه، از علاقه‌ ی عجیب «لاهیری» به زبان «ایتالیایی»، پرده برمیدارد، و خوانشگران در سیر و سلوک، و سفری عاشقانه با خیال ایشان، همراه می‌شوند؛ شاید ایشان نیز به دنبال هویت خویش میگردند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 07/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 16/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
February 6, 2017
Jhumpa Lahiri first entered the literary fiction scene with her Pulitzer Prize winning Interpreter of Maladies in 2000. A collection of short stories set in India and the United States, Maladies tugged at the reader's heartstrings. Since Maladies, Lahiri has gone on to write three full length novels. Yet, while grappling whether to set her stories in the United States or India, Lahiri set off to learn an additional language: Italian. In Other Words written entirely in Italian while living in Italy is Lahiri's first work of nonfiction.

Growing up the daughter of immigrant parents, Lahiri's first language was Bengali. Hearing this language exclusively until she started school, Lahiri refers to Bengali as her mother tongue even though she never writes in it. Upon entering school, she grew aware that her classmates and their parents only read, wrote, and spoke English, and Lahiri grew conscious of the fact that her parents were different. As soon as she mastered English, Lahiri shed Bengali in all facets of her life other than her home. Yet, being her mother tongue, she can not fully abandon it.

At age twenty five while working on a PhD in seventeenth century English, Lahiri decided to learn a third language: Italian. She began a twenty year journey where she set out to speak Italian as well as her two parent languages. Even after being recognized as a successful English language writer, Lahiri desired the challenge of immersing herself in Italian. Following the publication of her most recent novel, she packed up her family and moved from New York to Rome.

I give Lahiri much credit for moving to another country voluntarily. As someone who has learned new languages as both a child and an adult, I know first hand how difficult it can be to learn a new language system while already set in one's ways. Yet, Lahiri lived in Rome for three years. With the aid of a dictionary, notebook, and a network of peers, she transitioned to reading and writing exclusively in Italian. In Other Words is a collection of her diary entries about her relationship with the Italian language and written in Italian. The first readers of this book were Italian speakers, allowing a new group of people to read Lahiri's outstanding prose. The English version of this work is actually bilingual side by side in English and Italian. Lahiri did not translate the book herself because of her desire for her words to remain in Italian rather than English.

Following the publication of this work, Lahiri and her family returned to New York. She is unsure of the language her next book will be written in just as she is unsure how she will maintain her Italian now that she lives out of the country. Regardless of the language of her forthcoming books, Lahiri is a gifted writer, one of the outstanding novelists of this generation. The fact that she went outside of her comfort zone only adds to her brilliance as an author. A short work of nonfiction, I rate In Other Words 4 stars, only because I wished it could have been longer so I could have spent all the more time with Jhumpa Lahiri's prose.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews601 followers
December 18, 2015
'Holy-cow- snoopy- lupi- fluky'!!! I had 'no' idea what Lahiri
was up to since reading "Lowland", having just finished it days ago.
A bombshell just dropped from the heavens!!!

The writing is gorgeous - and intimate. I'm incredibly inspired......a little sad...( yet I'm not sure 'who' I'm sad for). Mostly, Jhumpa Lahiri rocked my boat & razzle-dazzled me!

Jhumpa Lahiri literally turned her life upside down & inside out....taking her family with her. This is a woman who is not afraid to feel 'fear'. She takes risks..puts herself in uncomfortable situations time and time again.

Lahiri believes..."that what can change our life is always outside of us". This line stayed with me throughout the entire novel. She continues to demonstrate by example
by the choices she makes and the way she lives her life.

From an author who has written some of the best short stories anyone would ever want to read - and a novel which became a movie in the theaters...
A Pulitzer Prize winner....Lahiri surprised the hell out of me with this
powerful memoir . AMAZING ...gusto!!!
Many insights about language-and living.

Thank You Knopf Doubleday Publishing, Netgalley, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Profile Image for Fionnuala.
792 reviews
July 15, 2019
The most interesting character in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake is a young woman whose parents emigrated to Boston from Bengal. She speaks two languages, English and Bengali, and when she decides to study a third at university, she chooses French. Moushumi, we are told in the novel, approached French, unlike American or Indian, without guilt, or misgiving, or expectation of any kind. It was easier to turn her back on the two countries that could claim her in favour of one that had no claim whatsoever.

In Other Words expands on that idea. Jhumpa Lahiri’s mother tongue is Bengali but English is the one she learned to read and write in, so her mother tongue slipped into second position, and eventually, because of her difficulties in reading and writing in it, it became a ‘foreign’ language. Lahiri therefore feels herself to be a writer who doesn't belong to any language.

She associates the notion of not belonging to any language to not belonging to any place either: Those who don't belong to any specific place can't, in fact, return anywhere. The concepts of exile and return imply a point of origin, a homeland. Without a homeland and without a true mother tongue I wander the world, even at my desk. In the end I realize that it wasn’t a true exile: far from it. I am exiled even from the definition of exile

One of the solutions Lahiri has found to her problem of not belonging is to devote herself, like her character Moushumi, to acquiring a third language and a new adoptive home, one that she had no historical links with whatsoever, one that is not in her blood or bones. She chose Italian and Italy.

After a number of years spent trying to master Italian from a distance, she moved her family to Rome to immerse herself totally in the language and culture. Not willing to make any compromises in her project, she decided to read and write only in Italian for the duration of her time there. In Other Words is more or less based on the diaries she kept in Italian during that two-year period. I can only admire her courage and persistence.

Writer friends advised her against such a radical undertaking, pointing out that a writer should never abandon his or her dominant language for one that is known only superficially, and claiming that the disadvantages would serve neither writer nor reader. Lahiri ignored all the advice and cut herself off completely from her former vocation as a writer of novels and stories in English. She even refused to translate In Other Words into English when this parallel text was being prepared for publication. Her justification for that decision was the fear of her own translation devouring, dismantling the original text. The choice of words here suggest an image of English as a powerful predator and Italian as the delicate prey the writer is trying to protect. She doesn't use the words predator or prey, but her text is nevertheless full of images and metaphors of a similar nature. English and Italian are brothers, for example, the older always trying to dominate the younger. Mastering a new language is like swimming across a lake instead of going around by the shore. Compiling lists of vocabulary becomes gathering words in the woods. The learning process is compared to climbing a mountain or to being a soldier crossing a desert with a tiny pack.

The constant stating of everything in terms of metaphor makes the book a little tiresome for the reader at times. However, it is clear that because of the author’s limited Italian, especially in the early chapters, those metaphors helped her explain complex ideas in simple language. She also relied a lot on repetition to get her message across. I lost count of how many times she explained her project and restated the difficulties of perfecting a foreign language.

So che non è possibile conoscere una lingua stranieri alla perfezione.

But because she repeats herself a lot, this parallel text is perfect for beginners in Italian, especially since she uses a relatively small number of words and phrases which we meet again and again so reinforcing their meaning. Another advantage for the beginner is that the thoughts she expresses are often ones we've had ourselves so they are easy to recognise. We know when she begins a thought, where exactly she is going with it and where she will end up. After the first few chapters, I was reading only the Italian and using the English to double check from time to time. Later, when she learned to use past tenses and more elaborate constructions, it got more difficult for me to follow but still I managed. However, when she quoted passages from Italian writers, I was lost completely - any notion that reading this book in Italian might make me ready to read Italian literature in the original was knocked firmly on the head!
I think I need to spend two years in Rome.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,855 followers
July 19, 2016
I realize that the wish to write in a new language derives from a kind of desperation. I feel tormented, just like Verga’s songbird. Like her, I wish for something else — something that I probably shouldn’t wish for. But I think that the need to write always comes from desperation, along with hope. Jhumpa Lahiri

Twenty-one summers ago I was finishing up one graduate degree in International Affairs and preparing to start a second one in Linguistics, moving from an inquiry into the effects women's levels of education in the developing world had on household income, birth rates and infant mortality, into an examination of how language affects our creativity. I intended to pursue a Ph.D in Linguistics and was mulling over a dissertation on expatriate writers in France who wrote in their adopted language. I planned to explore how writing in French had changed their approach the language of their stories, how this second, or some cases, third or fourth language, influenced the content and rhythm and expression of their thoughts.

Then I was offered a job, a great job, in my first field. I pondered the inherent financial and professional insecurities of a life in academe and I turned from the Ph.D path, away from Linguistics.

Oh, the irony as twenty years later I try to make a living as a writer, having turned from the path of financial and professional security and stability because it wasn't a life authentic to me. If someday I achieve a measure of commercial success, I will relocate lock, stock and barrel to France, where I can immerse wholesale into a language and culture that fills and sustains my heart and intellect.

Along comes Jhumpa Lahiri with In Other Words, a luminous meditation on how immersion in another language changes a writer's soul. In this evocative and earnest collection of brief essays on learning to express herself in Italian, Lahiri touches on everything I felt to be true or what I have experienced with equal intensity living in France and living in the French language: the daily intoxication and despair, the loss and discovery of self, the intimacy and estrangement that come with linguistic and cultural displacement.

This is not a book on what it's like to live in Italy. It is not a travelogue, a glimpse into a place any of us fortunate enough to have traveled there or who dream of going can mine for memories or tips. It could be set in Poland or Peru. This is a memoir of the mind of a writer who finds herself humbled by language. Lahiri writes of her first experiences crafting a story in Italian, “I’ve never tried to do anything this demanding as a writer. I find that my project is so arduous that it seems sadistic. I have to start again from the beginning, as if I had never written anything in my life. But, to be precise, I am not at the starting point: rather, I’m in another dimension, where I have no references, no armor. Where I’ve never felt so stupid.”

I am reminded as I savor these hesitant, glorious essays that my instincts two decades ago were right. Even then, so many years before I began writing, I understood the metamorphic potential that profound engagement with another language held for a writer. In Other Words has given me reason to take up that dream again, this time not at a scholarly remove, examining other writers' lives and work, but as a way to enhance my own.
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews206 followers
February 10, 2017
In Other Words

 photo jhumpa-lahiri_zpsttcg0gmv.png
Jhumpa Lahiri was born Nilanjana Sudeshna to Bengali Indian immigrants in London, she and her family moved to the United States when she was three years old

"Here was a woman, a translator, who wanted to be another person. There was no precise reason. It had always been that way. She considered herself imperfect, like the first draft of a book. She wanted to produce another version of herself, in the same way that she could transform a text from one language into another."
From The Exchange, the first story Lahiri wrote in Italian

Literature has always struck me as the most egalitarian of all the arts. Language and words the "raw material" used by writers to create and deliver their craft, are equally available to anyone.

So when a critically acclaimed, accomplished author who has mastered the English language, decides to turn her career around and chooses to start writing in a whole new language, this decision understandably gets the attention of the critics and the public at large.

When I first heard that Jhumpa Lahiri had chosen to put her writing career on hold in order to pursue her long-term passion for the Italian language, my initial reaction was similar to the one many sports fans had when Michael Jordan decided to come out of retirement to follow his dream of becoming a professional baseball player, namely admiration, perplexity and a tinge of curiosity.

Why would a wildly succesful author, Pulitzer Prize/Pen Award winner, awarded with the 2014 National Humanities Medal, take such a leap of faith?
The answers to this question are complex and profound and after reading this short but very poignant memoir, my sense is that Lahiri herself doesn't necessarily have definite answers.

Other reviewers have accurately described In Other Words as Lahiri's love letter to the Italian language, as she describes it:

"I don’t have a real need to know this language. I don’t live in Italy, I don’t have Italian friends. I have only the desire. Yet ultimately a desire is nothing but a crazy need. As in many passionate relationships, my infatuation will become a devotion, an obsession. There will always be something unbalanced, unrequited. I’m in love, but what I love remains indifferent. The language will never need me."

As a daughter of Indian Immigrants who grew up speaking both Bengali and English, Italian is Lahiri's third language.

Self-doubt, the search of identity and a foreboding sense of understanding many cultures but not completely fitting or belonging to any of them, is at the center of this beautiful, deeply introspective memoir.

Twenty years earlier as a college student, Lahiri had visited Italy, felt in love with the language and upon returning to Boston, wrote her doctoral theses on how Italian architecture influenced 17th-century English playwrights.
Deciding to jumped into this "affair" with both feet, she then hired a teacher and started the painstakingly slow and difficult process of learning a new language.

I felt a deep sense of connection and empathy with the author and how aptly she was able to describe the sense of wonder one can experience when learning a new language, a process that can be rewarding and enlightening, but also intellectually exhausting.

Contrary to Lahiri, I did not volunteer to learn a language -in my case English - as my second language. I was forced to do so out my need to survive and assimilate into a new country and culture, but I found many parallels between her experiences and mine.

I remembered reading my first books in English in the loyal company of my English-to-Spanish dictionary, unable to read more than a few sentences at a time before having to stop to look up the meaning of a new word, idiom or expression.

Although English is not a Romance language -like are French, Portuguese Italian or Spanish- over 60% of all English words have Greek or Latin roots. So for someone that speaks one of these languages, the similarities between them can at once facilitate the learning process, but also hinder it and make it more complicated.

I can recall more than a few embarrassing moments when I used "Homographs", words that have similar Latin roots, but have very different meanings.

A few examples:
molest/ molestar - Spanish meaning: to bother someone
realize / realizar - Spanish meaning: to perform
contest /contestar - Spanish meaning: to answer

 photo jhumpa-obama1_zpsgvinuebq.jpg
In 2014 President Obama granted Lahiri the National Humanities Medal

But mastering a language goes well beyond the mere collection and memorization of words, especially if your intention is not only to learn it for basic communication purposes - as it was in my case- but to actually try replicating your very successful writing career to that new tongue.

Like Lahiri, I took classes to improve my grammar and pronunciation, and imposed an "English only policy" to my reading and media consumption. I however had the advantage of living in the United States where English was spoken and written all around me, that was not the case for the author. Italian is a language spoken by very few people in the world so if you want to learn that language, there's pretty much only one place where to go!

Recognizing that reality, the author embarked in what she calls her "linguistic pilgrimage" and in 2012 along with her husband and two young children, moved to Italy to follow that dream.
During the two years she lived there, she chronicled in very intimate terms her struggles to fully absorb her adopted language, the fears and insecurities she experienced, but also recognized how this experiment gave her the freedom to be imperfect:

"Why, as an adult, as a writer, am I interested in this new relationship with imperfection? What does it offer me? I would say a stunning clarity, a more profound self-awareness. Imperfection inspires invention, imagination, creativity. It stimulates. The more I feel imperfect, the more I feel alive."

I felt that Lahiri so accurately validated my own experience when she asserts:

"I believe that reading in a foreign language is the most intimate way of reading".

She continues:
"When I read in Italian, I’m a more active reader, more involved, even if less skilled. I like the effort. I prefer the limitations. I know that in some way my ignorance is useful to me. I realize that in spite of my limitations the horizon is boundless. Reading in another language implies a perpetual state of growth, of possibility..."

In Other Words, Lahiri's account of her quest to master the Italian language struck me at times as a little bit redundant and overly dramatic, but as a whole I truly enjoyed this introspective, thoughtful meditation on the central role language plays in our lives and most importantly in the lives of writers.

At age 49, Lahiri sounds to me like a writer in transition, a woman looking for answers that can't stand still because she is trying to figure out the next chapter in her writing career.

On a final note, I listened to the audiobook version of this book, which Lahiri reads herself. Although her narration is a little bit flat and lacks intensity in her delivery, I've come to appreciate memoirs that are read by the authors because ultimately they are probably better at expressing their own thoughts. Also, and I say this as someone who doesn't speak Italian, her reading in that language sounded lovely to my untrained ears.
Profile Image for Chihoe Ho.
367 reviews87 followers
January 29, 2016
Where was the romance in learning a new language? I didn't think I'd be asking this question constantly while reading "In Other Words," and as much as I love Jhumpa Lahiri and her past works, this was a sorely disappointing bore.

So, talk about talking in circles! "In Other Words" felt like the same point presented in various ways, ways in which Lahiri flexed and improved upon her Italian fluency. Maybe it reads better in that language than English and was lost in translation, or maybe the very subtle differences in her musings were lost on me, but it felt like I was being fed metaphor after analogy, analogy after metaphor that served to drill the point of: learning a language is difficult. It can be isolating, and discombobulating; there's joy to be had, but it first requires a lot of effort and desire from you. I don't disagree with any of this, but boy was it tedious to read about it in a tone that was too flat.

Jhumpa Lahiri, I really admire and respect you for writing in another language and even choosing not to translate it yourself. But why oh why? In other words, sorry, words can't express enough how dismayed I am by this.
Profile Image for Kalliope.
691 reviews22 followers
September 21, 2017

When I finished this book, I immediately wondered if Jhumpa Lahiri’s next novel would be in Italian.

What a funny idea to come up with a full book solely engaged with her reasoning for wanting to learn Italian and her experiences while doing it. Granted, wanting to learn Italian on my part is why I decided to read it. The bilingual set up, , attracted me. I saw it as another learning tool in which the English version would be, lazily, my safety net.

This account felt entertaining at times, infuriating at others. Reading a parallel process to mine was like comparing notes with a friend and, therefore, enjoyable. But something that ought not to have taken much longer than a conversation over a mid afternoon coffee, even if lengthened by eating some Torte alle fragole along with the drinking, was given too much of a presence. This is after all trivia embodied in an object as magical as a book. And, consequently Lahiri irritates with her self-importance. How many people out there have had to learn and function, most often traumatically, another language?

I agree then with other readers in that, had this not been written by a price-winning, popular writer, no editor would have dreamed of publishing it.

Her account failed me to impress me too. Before she moved to Rome to get a final grip on Italian, she had already been learning it for twenty years (!). So, what is the big deal? Instead, I was more interested in her complex relationship to Bengali, the language of her forebears, which she ended up rejecting it.

As for her Italian, it was good for me to read her essay because its language is simple. I had started already a novel by an Italian writer, but I have put it aside because it is still too difficult for me. While with Lahiri’s short, well-balanced and carefully written sentences I could advance in my reading without recourse to the English safety net. Her Italian writing however has no beauty as it retains the tone of restraint found in textbooks. Hers is self-consciousness stepping along with words, one at a time, without falling, successively, and with periodic halts, where there is no flowing allure.

At least, not until the last chapter. With Penombra (Half-Light) I saw her writing in Italian take off, timidly.

Will it fly?
Profile Image for Warwick.
842 reviews14.6k followers
July 13, 2019
Jhumpa Lahiri won a shedload of prizes and acclaim for her first three books, but in 2012, after writing The Lowland, she took a strange and drastic decision: to abandon the English language altogether. And this was not a case of returning to a smaller, more ‘authentic’ first language, like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's rejection of English in favour of Kikuyu – no, Lahiri decided henceforth to immerse herself, as reader and writer, in Italian, a language of which she was no more than a student.

So complete was this rinuncia ufficiale, this ‘official renunciation’, that she would not even consent to do the English translation of this book (which she wrote in Italian), wishing, she says, to protect her new language from any contamination or inferiority complex that might arise from suddenly being able to flex her muscles in a more familiar idiom. Instead, Ann Goldstein, Elena Ferrante's translator, has rendered Lahiri's careful, clear Italian into a similarly clean English, with the two languages presented on facing pages.

I'll say straight off that I think Lahiri is crazy – but it's the kind of crazy you can only salute in admiration. And she writes very well about the allure of a foreign language, the way that acquiring fluency can become an all-consuming passion – the endless wordlists, so carefully put together from conversational faux-pas and misunderstood newspaper headlines, studied and forgotten in a hundred notebooks, so that you end up adding the same piece of vocabulary two or more times without ever remembering it. ‘I don't think my project is a waste of time,’ she says, zealously. ‘I know that its beauty lies in the act of gathering, not in the result.’

As someone who does this exercise regularly (today I looked up geeignet for what my notebook tells me is the third time), I would certainly like to believe this. And few who try to immerse themselves in a foreign language will fail to recognise Lahiri's struggle to get a grip on her extensive but eccentric vocabulary – ‘I feel as if I were dressed in an outlandish manner,’ she says, ‘wearing a long, elegant skirt of another era, a T-shirt, a straw hat, and slippers.’ She's also very perceptive on the way that reading literature in a foreign language forces you into a particular kind of close reading, which can feel incredibly productive and intimate:

When I read in Italian, I'm a more active reader, more involved, even if less skilled. I like the effort. I prefer the limitations. I know that in some way my ignorance is useful to me.

It may well be useful to her as a reader, but the question is whether it's useful to her as a writer. Immersing yourself in learning a language is one thing – turning your back on the language of your profession is something else. Lahiri clearly feels that writing in Italian is a discipline which helps her familiarise herself with the language, which is surely true…but what do her readers get out of it?

A couple of short stories inserted in the narrative here suggest that the answer may be ‘not a huge amount’, though it seems very ungenerous to say so. One would like her to succeed, and in an abstract sense the benefits of this technique are already established: think of Beckett writing in French ‘to avoid having a style’, as he said – or Nabokov, who switched to English with the opposite result, generating about the most ferocious style in English letters.

Maybe Lahiri will reach this point too, but at the moment she's in a curious no-man's-land – as evidenced by her afterword, which reveals that the Italian text of this book was revised first by her Italian teacher, then by two Italian writer friends of hers, and fourthly by the editor of the magazine in which the essays first appeared. Having left English behind but not yet secure on Italian shores, Lahiri is, she says, not even an exile: Sono esiliata perfino dalla definizione di esilio ‘I am exiled even from the definition of exile.’

Clearly, confining herself to Italian is hugely creatively inspiring for her right now. But whatever happens with her fiction, this particular kind of book – which reflects on the status of language, and translation, and how personality and style intersect with these – is the perfect text to be written in a not-quite-fluent language, and to be read in translation. The form matches the function. I wish more of these books existed, and I'm delighted that Jhumpa Lahiri has written such a moving example of one. She says she might never go back to English, and reading this, you kind of hope she won't need to.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,672 reviews302 followers
July 27, 2021
I'm an administrator in a language school. Every year I see hundreds of people struggling, just as Jhumpa Lahiri describes, with a new language. Most our students come from abroad to immerse themselves in English, but many are US citizens, serious about learning (last year alone) Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Russian, Tagalog, Thai or Urdu.

Lahiri writes of the process: the tutors, the notebooks, the many prepositions and tenses, making mistakes, misinterpreting and more. Although a serious and passionate student progress was not linear, nor always forward. After 20 years of struggling, she moved... she moved her entire family ... to Italy, and there came the breakthrough.

The author's language journey is unusual. She is a gifted and prize winning author (in English), and very familiar with the texture and structure of language. Her native tongue is arguably English, although Bengali was her actual first language. Her decision to learn Italian resulted from a trip to Florence; Why? She cannot explain it, but she accepts that Italian fluency is her passionate goal.

Learning a language means learning a culture. It is a whole new way of thinking. It can be exhausting and exhilarating. Lahiri bears her soul on its very personal elements.

Lahiri wrote this book in Italian which appears on the left page with the English translation (by Ann Goldman, translator of Elena Ferrante, Primo Levi and Giacomo Leopardi to name a few) on the right. The translation is straightforward making it possible for those with a rudimentary knowledge of Italian to test their skills. Through the translation, you can see charm in the level of nuance attained by a high level second language learner.

Lahiri plans to write more in Italian (which would never be a marketer's choice) and I hope we, the English reading public, will not have to wait for their translations to appear.

This book is not for everyone. Those who have, as adults, studied a language (not for college credit, but to use it) or have friends or family in the process, particularly if Italian is either L1 or L2 (as we refer to languages in my profession) will appreciate this book.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews604 followers
March 27, 2017
lingua come una marea, ora un'inondazione, ora bassa, inaccessibile

There are two writers whose stories are similar to stories I'd aspire to write: Jhumpa Lahiri and Chimamanda Adichie. They write about the immigrant experience, of characters who have overcome obstacles, of those who strive to simply find some soupçon of success in foreign lands. Writers like Lahiri reveal the immigrant's challenges and successes with assimilation in new cultures. So of course it was a delight to read the autobiographical account of her own challenges in Rome, Italy, as she tries to write and speak a new language:
Just as a word can have many dimensions, many nuances, great complexity, so, too, can a person, a life. Language is the mirror, the principal metaphor. Because ultimately the meaning of a word, like that of a person, is boundless, ineffable.

Lahiri did not live in the Calcutta she writes about in her fiction and even though some insist her stories are nonfictional, she explains that she is a woman who has created stories and characters from her imagination, though using the homeland of her parents. In this memoir, the reader finally gets a glimpse of the woman behind the desk, the writer who seeks herself in books and language. There is something exhilarating about languages and cultures, and this contemplative memoir emphasizes this while also showcases a woman's struggle with identity and search for homeland:
Without a homeland and without a true mother tongue, I wander the world, even at my desk. In the end I realize that it wasn't a true exile: far from it. I am exiled even from the definition of exile.

Why would someone live in a country for a year, sense a language, study the language for over a decade? And why would an American writer choose to write a book in Italian? More importantly, why would a fiction writer decide to embrace the world of nonfiction? These are the questions I had as I read this memoir, for Lahiri's reflections certainly resonate with this immigrant reader who has also considered finding placement through language. Although in some instances one senses the hesitations of the novice nonfiction writer afraid to unmask privacy, this memoir about possibility and triumph, about the writing craft and language discovery, is written in the same gorgeous, simple layered style that comprise Lahiri's oeuvre (Now onto my fourth read of hers: The Namesake ).
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,549 reviews603 followers
June 7, 2021
[4+] Lahiri's essays about her transformation from a writer who writes in English to one who writes in Italian, struck me on a visceral level. She writes beautifully and with vulnerability about her decision to restart her career from scratch. As Lahiri says about her book: It recounts an uprooting, a state of disorientation, a discovery. It recounts a journey that is at times exciting, at times exhausting. An absurd journey, given that the traveler never reaches her destination. For me, this is an exhilarating book about finding freedom through the creative process.

I read the print version with facing pages of Italian and English. Although I can't read Italian, I frequently referred to the Italian words which added to the intense experience.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
181 reviews13 followers
June 7, 2017
Others have referred to this book as describing Lahiri’s love affair with Italian, but I sometimes wondered if it wasn’t more of a “fatal attraction” level of obsession. I found the book oddly devoid of joy and completely lacking in humor. Her experience of the Italian language feels very interior and isolated. It’s geared to learning more about herself rather than connecting to other people. She writes of wanting to be understood, but not of understanding. There were moments when I seriously thought she’d benefit by reallocating some of her time to a therapist or life coach to understand why she sees herself as so very different from literally everyone else – and why she never seems to miss an opportunity to feel offended or belittled (her reaction to being greeted in English by shopkeepers had my eyes rolling – this happens to me in Italy, too, Jhumpa, and I look much more Italian than you do! Just smile and say “Preferisco parlare in italiano, per favore.” Believe me, to make a sale, they will.)

Fundamentally, I find Lahiri's obsession with the linguistic dichotomy of her upbringing overwrought: many other people have experienced that duality without feeling themselves to be “void” of an “origin.” [My own experience is not exactly parallel to hers, as my parents did not insist I speak their Italian dialect at home. But I had friends whose parents did.] As Lahiri writes at one point, “Because of my divided identity, or perhaps by disposition, I consider myself an incomplete person, in some way deficient.” This reminds me that for years I used to blame certain things I didn’t like about myself on my parents and my upbringing – until I saw my brother and his wife being exactly the kind of parents I thought I wished for and yet their daughter (my niece) still demonstrated some of the insecurities and hesitations that have dogged my life. Some things are just innate.

Despite these negative reactions (and a few more I could cite), I enjoyed the first chapters of the book quite a bit. As the book wore on, however, I found it repetitive, and the analogies increasingly more labored and less profound than the author seemed to think they were. A 2.5 experience overall. 

For those who have access to subscription-only content at the New York Review of Books website, I recommend this review by Tim Parks, someone who truly knows how to enjoy Italy and the Italian language while also being a “serious person.” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/...
Profile Image for Hussein Dehghani.
86 reviews2 followers
June 5, 2017
به دیگر سخن
این اثر که دو داستان کوتاه هم در خود دارد، در واقع خودنوشتی حرفه‌ای از لاهیری و عشق و علاقه‌اش به زبان ایتالیایی است. گفتنی‌ست اصل اثر به زبان ایتالیایی است و این کتاب اولین اثر نویسنده به این زبان است. با توجه به اینکه در این کتاب نویسنده مستقیم و بی‌واسطه از خودش، احساسات و زندگی و داد و ستدش با زبان‌های انگلیسی، بنگالی و ایتالیایی صحبت کرده است، اثری ارزشمند محسوب می شود. از جهت دیگر این کتاب به واسطه‌ی اولین مشق قوی ایتالیایی لاهیری، ارزشی دو چندان دارد. دو داستانی که در کتاب می‌خوانیم با فکر و ذهن و زبان ایتالیایی، از نویسنده ای است که همواره انگلیسی می‌نوشته است. کتاب با روایتی عاشقانه از علاقه‌ی عجیب لاهیری به زبان ایتالیایی پرده بر می دارد و خواننده در این سیر و سلوک و سفر عاشقانه با او همراه می‌شود. گاه لحن لاهیری تلخ و گاه طنز می شود، اما لحن اصلی کتاب بسیار صمیمی و شیرین است و لاهیری چون دوستی صمیمی با خوانندگان و دوستدارانش از عمیق‌ترین و طولانی‌ترین عشقش به زبان ایتالیایی که سابقه‌ای بیست ساله دارد، حرف می‌زند و درد و دل می‌کند.

ريويو كپى شده از سايت نشر كوله پوشتى

من دوست داشتم كتاب رو :)
Profile Image for Jill.
1,189 reviews1,687 followers
May 3, 2016
This is a love story.

But it’s not a traditional love story. It’s the story of a Pulitzer-prize winning author – Jhumpa Lahiri – who fell in love with the Italian language.

I need to stop and own up to my biases going in to this book. My initial feeling, after hearing that Ms. Lahiri was going to write a book in Italian, translated not by herself but by Ann Goldstein, struck me as enormously self-indulgent. Worse, I felt almost betrayed; I loved Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories and hated that she no longer wanted to write them in my native language.

Gradually, though, this book won me over. Jhumpa Lahiri, born of Bengali parents in the United States, was forced to speak Bengali at home and English at school. She writes this: “When ou live in a country where your own language is considered foreign, you can feel a continuous sense of estrangement. You speak a secret, unknown language, lacking any correspondence to the environment. An absence that creates a distance within you.”

She goes on to explain that writing is her only way of absorbing and organizing life and that “language is the mirror, the principal metaphor” of life. Her metamorphosis to Italian – while not making her an “Italian writer” – provides her with the luxury of not having to be perfect, to concentrate on every single word, to take creative flight. Far from self-absorption, this was an act of liberation and freedom.

At the end of the day, In Other Words still takes on the themes for which Ms. Lahiri has become known: identity, alienation, belonging. But it’s far more personal because for the first time, she focuses on herself, not a created character. It’s insightful and perceptive. The left-hand side is written in Italian and the right-hand side is translated into English, so readers who know the Italian language will experience even greater rewards from the reading.

Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,719 followers
January 5, 2019
This is a lovely memoir about Jhumpa Lahiri's obsession with learning Italian. She's been studying it for years, immersing herself in Italian lessons and culture, and this book is a collection of stories about her experiences. The book itself is printed in both English and Italian, which is a nice benefit to others interested in learning the language.

"In Other Words" is a very personal story, and fans of Lahiri's novels may appreciate this glimpse into the author's real life. Recommended.

Meaningful Passage
"My relationship with Italian takes place in exile, in a state of separation. Every language belongs to a specific place. It can migrate, it can spread. But usually it's tied to a geographical territory, a country. Italian belongs mainly to Italy, and I live on another continent, where one does not readily encounter it ... In a sense I'm used to a kind of linguistic exile. My mother tongue, Bengali, is foreign in America. When you live in a country where your own language is considered foreign, you can feel a continuous sense of estrangement. You speak a secret, unknown language, lacking any correspondence to the environment. An absence that creates a distance within you. In my case there is another distance, another schism. I don't know Bengali perfectly. I don't know how to read it, or even write it. I have an accent, I speak without authority, and so I've always perceived a disjunction between it and me. As a result I consider my mother tongue, paradoxically, a foreign language, too. As for Italian, the exile has a different aspect. Almost as soon as we met, Italian and I were separated. My yearning seems foolish. And yet I feel it. How is it possible to feel exiled from a language that isn't mine? That I don't know. Maybe because I'm a writer who doesn't belong completely to any language."
Profile Image for Ines.
321 reviews198 followers
August 2, 2019
Cara Jhumpa,
scrivo questa recensione come se ti scrivessi personalmente, perchè proprio in modo personale e intimo ho letto questo tuo libro che tanto rispecchiava me e la mia famiglia....
Quante similitudini, quante sofferenze e insormontabili difficoltà ho ritrovato nelle tue parole.... rivedo ancora mio marito americano, ormai quasi 24 anni fa.... alle prese con il suo italiano ancora sgangherato e spesso incomprensibile, lavorare e nello stesso momento studiare per la seconda volta Ingegneria, schiacciato da una burocrazia senz'anima, che non riteneva completamente degna ed equipollente la sua laurea presso il Virginia Tech.
Gli sforzi sovrumani per la pronuncia, le serate a studiare e a ripetere insieme la grammatica.....
Tu con i tuoi meravigliosi obiettivi, noi con traguardi paradossalmente più semplici ma anche piu' decisivi per il futuro lavorativo e di mantenimento...
Ho riso come una pazza quando hai scritto delle parole particolari o i sinonimi nei tuoi taccuini, o le difficoltà per l'imperfetto e il passato prossimo....😊
So che sei ritornata negli USA a vivere, ma sappi che se anche fossi rimasta per i successivi 30 anni, saresti stata comunque considerata sempre.... "la straniera", o l'americana,😔 non ho mai capito per quale comunicazione inconscia antropologica, qualcuno scappa da questo marchio a vita confondendosi tra gli italiani e considerato tale.... e altri no.
Mio marito, dopo 24 anni in Italia e 21 da cittadino con passaporto, parla un italiano perfetto con accento milanese, viene comunque sempre salutato, bollato o chiamato, nel suo Studio, negli uffici tecnici del Comune, nei Bar o nei ristoranti che frequenta..... come "L' americano" o "L' ingegnere di Washington"🤷‍♂️😂. Pace, ormai ci ride su questo aspetto!
Bello, bello ciò che hai voluto per la tua vita..... ti stimo e ammiro molto, ti ho sentita parlare italiano in un' intervista e devo dirti che parli come noi, persino con accento romano!
Per far si che mio marito riuscisse a parlare perfettamente l'italiano, i miei figli ne hanno pagato lo scotto, non sono mai diventati perfettamente bilingue a causa della voluta precedenza del parlato domestico in italiano.....
"Tucc non se pò mia fa..."🤷‍♀️
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,414 followers
July 3, 2021
As someone who tried to learn French at age 40, only to find that her brain was (surprise, surprise) not the absorbent sponge it was when she was 14, I was interested in how things went for Jhumpa Lahiri in her quest to learn Italian. But that's not quite what this memoir is about. Sure, it's about learning Italian, but more than that it's about the creative rejuvenation Lahiri experiences when she decides to write fiction in Italian. The new sense of discovery she experiences in that process was really interesting to read about and made me even more curious to read Whereabouts, her first novel written in Italian. Alas, my experience with that book did not go as well as my experience with this one, which tempered my enthusiasm for the entire enterprise. C'est la vie.
Profile Image for Mariah Roze.
1,029 reviews933 followers
March 5, 2018
I read this book for the Goodreads' book club Diversity in All Forms! If you would like to participate in the discussion here is the link: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

This book is all about the author's love for learning the language of Italian and everything she did to make that happen. She moved to Italy and wrote this book in Italian. (I read the English version).

This book had some interesting points, but probably should have ended a lot sooner. It seemed the author didn't have much to say and kept going in circles....

I found it interesting though that everyone that her husband was better and Italian just because he looked Italian. Where she had practiced it for years and almost perfected it, but because she is Indian no one took her serious with the language. She would always be considered a foreigner no matter how fluent she became.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,172 reviews8,385 followers
September 23, 2019
I really admire Lahiri's commitment to writing in Italian, and this was a fascinating exercise in and examination of testing one's ability to adopt a new language. Her metaphors are illuminating and helpful guides to better understand her interior state while working through the difficulties of learning said new language. Now I'm eager to read the (hopefully) eventual translation of her first novel written fully in Italian!
Profile Image for Chloe.
356 reviews25 followers
April 7, 2017
"I identify with the imperfect [tense] because a sense of imperfection has marked my life."

1.5 stars. This is when I wish that Goodreads would show half stars in their ratings, because as much as I applaud Jhumpa Lahiri for her incredible undertaking, this book lacked serious depth for me. I read two of Lahiri's novels (Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake) a long time ago and I remember being impressed and taken in by her fiction. Her current attempt to write a memoir, translated from her nonnative Italian to English, however, falls flat.

I share Lahiri's ardent dream of adopting, internalizing, and operating in a foreign language (Italian for her, French/German/Russian for me), but the way that she shares with her readers her "relationship" with Italian is so alienating and narcissistic. I intimately know the struggles that she goes through with trying to learn Italian (imperfect v. simple past?? not a new thing for any Romance language student), but her words and the emphasis on "I" don't allow any kind of connection between her experience and mine.

I found that frustrating, because while she may be the most public figure to take on such a challenge of converting to a new language, she can't possibly think that there are not thousands of other people out there doing the same. Her writing implies that she's alone in this adventure, doing her best to "plumb the depths of Italian", and she feels depressed when native speakers don't "assume" that she can speak their language too.

First of all, since when is this such a problem that it leads to an identity crisis? I mean, everyone goes through that struggle in a foreign country, everyone gets that twinge of shame that despite their best efforts, they do, in fact, stick out. I feel like I'm missing something, because reading Lahiri's memoir, you'd think she traveled all on her own to Mars to learn Martian. Is she so above everyone else with her ~famous writer~ status that she thinks her fears, struggles, observations are one of a kind? Because none of what she's talking about is unique to her. Sorry, but it's true: plenty of people who aren't famous writers have been to Rome and they've managed to study Italian as well.

Take me for example: I used to be so self-conscious of my language inabilities when I lived in Switzerland (Italian-speaking Switzerland, actually). I would walk around weighed down by my anxiety, petrified that the cashier at the grocery store would find out that I only knew 5 words, that my native language was English, and that I was American. But you just can't live your life like that; unless you like your misery, you have to take the plunge into your mistakes and embrace your new life, not dwell on what you don't know. Also, you can't expect people of a different culture to just accept you on sight, just because that's how you want to be perceived. People aren't there to reinforce your self confidence and sense of acceptance.

My issue with Lahiri in this memoir is that she writes with such melancholy, such self pity, and adds no analysis whatsoever to these (very common) experiences. I feel like I'm listening to a friend talk about their problems, and as I try to relate to them or cheer them up, I realize that they would actually prefer me to be a quiet witness as they sigh wistfully and stare morosely out the window. So mired in their self pity and melodrama are they, that it's not possible that someone else could understand what they are going through.

This is how I felt while reading In Other Words, which is really a shame because I thought I would have a great deal in common with Lahiri and her adventure. But her writing lacks the joy that I find in language learning, as well as the wonder and excitement that comes with relocating abroad. Lahiri probably does find happiness and passion in living and breathing Italian, but she doesn't show it at all in her own reflections. She's despondent from the first page and impersonates this kind of tragic heroine figure, because she'll never be able to fully convert her brain to that of an Italian *sniffs and tearfully looks away*... which I admit that I don't really get because she's only been in Italy for less than two years, but she's still doing well enough to write and publish a book. That is what I would call the epitome of the humble brag.

I will say this, however: as someone who has done a lot of writing in various foreign languages, it is extremely difficult to express yourself in depth. You fall prey to wordy, confused phrases, your writing lacks wit and sharpness, your "great ideas" are hardly more than cliches (see Lahiri's example above). When you work as hard as you do to accurately put together a sentence in a nonnative language, much of your original style and brilliance is dulled. Lahiri did try to talk about this, but she made the mistake of implying that it was her struggle, her personal demon in Italian, rather than something universal that all aspiring linguists and polyglots grapple with.

I wish I wish I wish I could say that I connected with this book, that I enjoyed it, but try as I might, Lahiri's attitude is too off-putting and not insightful enough for me to appreciate her project.
Profile Image for Margaret.
278 reviews170 followers
February 7, 2017
My initial contact with this book of Lahiri’s came when I read “Teach Yourself Italian,” her article in the December 7, 2015 copy of The New Yorker. That article contained early versions of four of the twenty-four chapters that are contained in In Other Words. The article completely captivated me. I had already known that Lahiri was interested in learning Italian, but the depths of the process had never been so completely clarified. For me, reading that article, the real news was the final line: (Translated, from the Italian, by Ann Goldstein). Even though I knew she had been learning Italian, I hadn’t realized until that line that she had written this entire piece that I was reading in Italian. I bought the book when a whole stack of them, marked “Signed First Edition,” appeared at my local indie bookstore. I had to have it.

My first reaction was emotional. Lahiri had been one of my favorite writers in English, and now she was writing in Italian. That meant I would be reading Ann Goldstein’s version of Lahiri’s Italian, which according to Lahiri had “rougher edges” than her English. She felt she needed to maintain her then two-year long discipline of reading and writing only in Italian. I felt I would be losing the gorgeous language of one of my favorites. I was both pleased for her and sorry for myself. Would there be no future Interpreter of Maladies, the book I first loved, the book I bought copy after copy to give away to friends? I wasn’t at all sure.

In Other Words itself is printed in a dual language edition: the verso side is in Lahiri’s Italian, the recto is in Goldstein’s English. Unable to read Italian, I read Goldstein. (I did look back and forth, wondering if I could learn a few things about Italian if I matched sentence for sentence all the way through. I didn’t do that, although I couldn’t help noting how many more “i”s there are in Italian than there are in English.) The book has twenty-four short chapters, and because 115 of the 230 pages are original text and the other 115 are translation, those chapters are very short indeed. The book is a memoir, a record of an accomplishment, a story about discipline but mostly about how it feels to live inside a language one barely knows and how it feels to struggle for and then attain mastery. In addition, Lahiri includes “The Exchange,” the first short story she wrote and published in Italian.

Rather than make a clear structure (it is roughly chronological) or argument, this book operates more like a gathering of poems, a collection of different metaphors explaining what it is like to learn a new language. The opening chapter of the book is “The Crossing,” where she writes of speaking a language as being like swimming across a lake. Her own Italian skills allow her only to swim in the shallow water, keeping close to the shore. She sees others excel while she is timid. In the chapter “Venice,” she writes that the topography gives her another key to understanding her acquisition of Italian: English is like the water in the canals and Italian is like the many bridges over the canals. “Writing in another language resembles a journey of” (97) constantly crossing bridges. Her journey across those bridges is fraught with inconvenience, change, and disorientation. She could survive by going into English, but she is determined to build those bridges and accustom herself to those roundabout routes. In the very next chapter (“The Hairy Adolescent”), she describes her Italian as an innocent baby, while her English is “like a hairy, smelly teenager” (119). She wants that teenager not to disturb the baby and keep it from developing into “a carefree, strong independent kid” (119) like her English is.

The book continues in that vein: metaphor after metaphor. Each was interesting while I was reading, but I did want to say to Lahiri, okay, okay, I get it. Even so, she is still a fine thinker and writer. I’m beginning to think I’ll be okay if she keeps writing in Italian. The book ends with an afterword that is fascinating. In it she compares herself to Matisse, who later in life left paint and took up paper-cutting. Of course, he had no choice as he could no longer paint. She chose to change. And then she contrasts this book to her others: this one is the one rooted in her own life; in all her others, she “wrote in order to conceal [her]self” (215). I found this whole discussion interesting and valuable. And then she gives a hint that she has not yet decided to continue to write in Italian. She writes, “I think that my new language, more limited, more immature, gives me a more extensive, more adult gaze. That’s the reason I continue, for now, to write in Italian” (215). I underlined that “for now” in my copy of the book. And in the very last section she writes that she is leaving Rome and returning to America. She doesn’t know what will happen to her Italian once she is back. When I finished reading, I went online and discovered that Lahiri is now living in Princeton, NJ, where she is a professor in their Creative Writing Program. So she is back swimming in those English canals. Whatever she writes next, I’m likely to be back at my bookstore, buying the first edition.
Profile Image for Toni.
659 reviews203 followers
January 5, 2019
My review has been Updated Mar 8, 2016; To include comments on the audio. This was a perplexing book from a favorite author of mine. She had a love affair with the Italian language! Not so much the people, the country, the food (mama Mia ), but the language. Okay that's fine. She wanted to immerse herself in it. Learn it, absorb it, think and dream in it, as if she was born to it. She became a woman obsessed with this task. So she AND her family MOVED to Italy for 2 years so she could accomplish this task. She did it. This is her resulting book. She can check the item off her list. Why you ask? Well, I don't think she's really sure of that answer, but you should definitely read this book. Maybe you can help her out with that.
Update: Audiobook Review:
I wanted to get a better perspective and understanding of why Ms. Lahiri would embark on such an incredible move to Rome, uprooting herself and her family, to learn the Italian language. I get that total immersion in the country is the best way to secure success; but why would an already respected, successful author do this? I wanted to know more, I wanted to hear it in her own voice. I could write pages after listening, but I'll summarize.
First, I've never heard Ms. Lahiri speak before other than reading her books, her voice is pleasant but I was shocked to hear no emotion. Correct, no emotion, no inflections in anything she read. She spoke perfectly, both in English and Italian, but in monotone.
She is and was determined by one goal only, to learn to speak and write in Italian, perfectly. She is a perfectionist, she will admit this. While I heard intelligence I also heard naïveté. Especially when she spoke of Venice. And, in her afterword she almost sounds or feels guilty for her endeavor to write in Italian. She still was uncertain.
Lastly, to one who heard Italian spoken since birth, what was missing for me was PASSION. Italians say everything with feeling and passion; whether speaking of an opera or yesterday's garbage. Also she says nothing about the incredible country she's living in. Nothing about it's people, culture, food, landscape. She's in Rome! One cannot really learn Italian without feeling it. That's impossible, that's simply technical study. Ok
Finally, the only emotion I heard was when she was defending her books and why she writes. And rightly so. Ms. Lahiri my advice to you, (I'm much older), be proud of your achievements, but please take the time to enjoy yourself and your family. Be easier on yourself my dear. Have some wine and relax. All the best. Ciao. A salude.
126 reviews104 followers
March 12, 2018

'In Other Words' is a kind of book that I love reading. It is a deep meditation on words, life, literature, and being in the world. She wrote this book in Italian. On each left page is the Italian text, and on the corresponding right page is the English translation. Any English speaking person who loves Italian, such a book might be an immense source of delight. One can read two books in one.

The book almost feels like a shimmering river flowing in its full glory. Since I knew that the English translation is done by someone else (this would be curious if Jhumpa has done it herself), I wondered how can someone learn another language so late in life, and yet could write profoundly. It feels more like an achievement because, for a writer like her, she could just have stick to her native English. Since she chose to write in Italian, it shows her commitment and passion toward the Italian language.

There are things about writers from the non-European backgrounds (or let us say non-white) especially in regard to the English language that always chase them. Of course, it is an extremely legitimate area of inquiry, however, when it comes to authors like Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy and many others, these questions expose the one who poses them. Such enquires become meaningless because these authors not only own the English language, they add newer meanings where none existed before. So I find this annoying and also hilarious when unreflecting people (critics) talk about such authors in terms of native, non -native, first- second language and so forth as if being native is the only qualification one requires to write well, to write literature.

Further in the book, for instance, we see how certain stereotypes function in the real world. Lahiri's Italian is far superiors to her husband. Whereas he is often complimented on his excellent Italian, Lahiri rarely attracts appreciation for her knowledge of Italian by ordinary people in Italy. This is due to her skin color which makes Italians 'unsee' her language.

Since I am very much into learning Danish, I see how some of the difficulties one faces while learning languages are the same especially when one wants to learn well. Many a time people assume that their language is the most difficult, and almost impossible, to learn. On such occasions, I wonder how do they arrive at such portentous claims about the worth of their native language. One can only say such a thing if one knows all the languages spoken in the world. Another very interesting, but misleading, pronouncement often made by the non-native speakers of English language that 'English is a simple language' (such people forget that they have been learning it since age six). Yes maybe up to an intermediate level but beyond that, it is not. It is one of the most difficult languages in the world, one only realizes this when it is seriously pursued.

She also talks about themes such as home, alienation, and exile. In fact, these are not the things that happen to particular group or races, these are universal things. However, in the western context, there are whole industries that keep these 'things' – hot, kicking and relevant, but in a very selective manner. For instance, an American family living in Italy remains, by choice, American. An Italian living in the US for ages is eternally an Italian-American; this list of hyphenated identities is long, though selective. We hardly describe Germans, Scandinavians, English in such terms. They are Americans in the way others are not.

However, this book should not be read for its subtle political leanings but for its serious quest for words and meanings. She not only makes an attempt to hold 'words' in her grip, she lets them fly and go into unfamiliar zones of life.

Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,175 followers
November 7, 2019
This was my first introduction to the Indian (Bengali) writer Jhumpa Lahiri (° 1967), who has already gained some fame with literature in English. In this book she describes how she made the "crossing" (literally) to Italian, a language that got under her skin for reasons that were at first unclear to her. Her obsession and passion for this new language grew so strong that she actually moved to Italy in 2011 and started writing in Italian. This difficult transition is described in detail and at first it looked like a rather tedious rapport, with a slight narcistic slant.

But with her autobiographical experience, Lahiri explores what language is, and especially how important it is for the formation of your own identity. She had previously gained the experience of switching from Bengali to English, which she masters perfectly but still cannot call her mother-tongue, and now there is this new transformation. Between the lines she suggests she had to ‘escape’ from the English language and immerse herself in another one, to find a room of her own (Woolf is lurking around the corner).

It is therefore not surprising that she deals quite extensively with the theme of metamorphoses (yes, also Ovid of course comes to the fore), and how life consists of permanent change. And with all of that, writing is a way to get a grip on this process, and she also goes into that in greater depth. This small book (written in Italian!) thus appears to contain a wealth of insights about language, identity and the role of literature in it. It’s simple, straIghtforward, a bit too egocentric at times, but fascinating. (2.5 stars)
Profile Image for Speranza.
138 reviews100 followers
April 2, 2016
Me and Italian language go way back. In fact, ours has become a long-lasting relationship even though I have often neglected him along the way – English has always been of greater use, and then I met German who I had to get close to. Not to forget Bulgarian who was there from the start.

I have love stories with all of the above mentioned languages. And these are some colourful and passionate stories. I could sit down and put them to paper.

But I am not called Jhumpa Lahiri.
Nobody would care. My stories are unique to me and Lahiri’s story is unique to her, but I feel like she is a bit behind on things. People all over the world, mostly those whose mother tongue is not English, have been learning and connecting with languages for a long time. I am sure most of us can relate to her story, but I don’t see the point of it being published. For someone who writes about love for language, the language she uses is repetitive and clichéd. It is self-indulgent and vain. In the end, it is simply pointless.
It was a smart move on the author’s part to choose to write this in Italian – a language that, unlike English, allows you to talk about yourself without overusing the omnipresent ‘I’ word. Still, this book is ultimately all about the ‘I’ and not about the language.

In Other Words will probably be a good read for anyone interested in Jhumpa Lahiri.
For anyone interested in a non-fictional account of the magic of language, someone like Wittgenstein is the author to go to.
Profile Image for Angela.
27 reviews
April 4, 2017
As a former journalist who has studied a foreign language, lived abroad, and spent considerable time in Italy, I enjoyed Jhumpa Lahiri's exploration of the themes of exile and finding a new voice in her writing through another language (in her case, a third). This slim volume, translated from her new-found Italian to English, her language of core competency, reflects the often staccato style of a foreign speaker, which felt repetitive at first. That's forgivable, because Lahiri makes you co-pilot on her journey to navigate her way through this new, more romantic language, one that makes her feel more at home and creative, but one in which, to her own admission, she still struggles. What I missed was more of her story (she moves her family to a new country and rarely discusses those struggles or sacrifices). I also craved more details of her new surroundings, the gorgeous city of Rome, which she leaves mostly to the reader's imagination. This book, which seems to be part journal, is almost more of a lengthy essay fit for a literary magazine than a book-length memoir. If you deleted the Italian portion, it might stand, waif-like, at 100 pages. It’s a lovely piece, and I recommend it especially to creative-types who have lived in other countries. Ultimately, I wanted her to push the narrative boundaries (as opposed to her language boundaries) into more vulnerable, and possibly exciting, new realms of memoir.
Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,614 followers
April 11, 2016
A few months back, I began planning for a vacation to a foreign country, tentatively scheduled for March/ April. This time suited me professionally as my work commitments were a tad less tight. My brother, who generally makes it to these family vacations, was not to make it this time due to his other engagements. The trip was planned and I was all ready to take off. Just a week before I was scheduled to fly, my brother called up and with reference to the trip, asked simply this one question, “Would you be able to manage the language there?” I was about to fly to a country where English was hardly spoken in day-to-day life.

Words. Language encircling Words. Dialects categorizing Words. Usage validating Words. There is something about Words. No. Everything is about Words.

The world revolves around communication and the words imparting that communication, veracity or futility. Words can make or break people. Words can as easily make or break nations. A toddler speaks his own words and a soldier speaks his own; why, even a mute speaks his words which we only sometimes get and sometimes, don’t.

I have always opened the gates of my heart to words; a flood of them, incessantly pounding my being, never getting tired of their various forms and sounds. So, when I came across this book, whose blurb read as the journey of a reputed Anglophone writer attempting to write in a new language, Italian, it captivated my interest like a fresh breeze coming from an unknown terrain, holding a luscious, familiar scent in its caress.

I read most of this book when I was on my vacation and it was no coincidence. Reading Lahiri’s struggle with finding an opening into Italian, however inconsequential, was an endearing experience when placed alongside my own, real-life struggles on getting my very basic, trivial requirements past a lady at the supermarket or the gentleman on the ticket counter. Lahiri narrates her painstaking journey with the beginner’s doubts of the worth of the expedition, followed by the intermediate’s apprehensions of the relevance of the exercises and culminated by the advanced’s solace of the fruitfulness of the outcome. Amid keeping diaries and taking notes, conversing with locals and shunning English altogether, she attempts to shed the skin of security that being a well-known writer drapes around the bones. She trounces assertiveness for ignorance; friends for teachers. She even surrenders critique and editing for flow; a flow which alone can anoint her Italian writing with a gravitas worth mentioning.
“My knowledge of English is both an advantage and a hindrance. I rewrite everything like a lunatic until it satisfies me, while in Italian, like a soldier in the desert, I have to simply keep going.”
During my interactions with the locals at my vacation destination, I realized that speaking was so much more difficult than writing. Unlike writing which shields the written words from an immediate onslaught of reactions, thereby providing the writer a reasonably lengthy supportive environment to breathe life into a creation, speaking dismantles all defences by eliciting responses much before even a line has been uttered, sending the speaker into a conscious shell of reconsideration and mild self-reproach. The responses I received, despite being enquiring, and not contemptuous, in nature, decelerated my casual attempts to learn the language. So, I could well imagine the roadblocks, even those not mentioned in this book, that must have rocked Lahiri’s conscious, and most certainly, more vigorous attempts to learn the language.

With help from professionals and locals, libraries and thesauruses, family and friends and above all, self-drive, she slowly finds her feet, adding one word to another, substituting a phrase here and there and manages to write two short stories in Italian (which are included in this book). While the stories are part autobiographical in nature, the fictionalization is rather apparent.

Having reached this stage of her journey, she is suddenly besieged by a terrifying thought; her ambiguity as a native. She bares her bruises to expose a fear, that which freezes the bottom of a ship that leaves a comfortable shore for unknown waters for a short time. The shore does not own up the ship anymore while the waters are aware of the ship’s temporary visit. Where does the ship belong?
“My writing in Italian is, just like a bridge, something constructed, fragile. It might collapse at any moment, leaving me in danger. English flows under my feet. I'm aware of it: an undeniable presence, even if I try to avoid it. Like the water in Venice, it remains the stronger, more natural element, the element that forever threatens to swallow me. Paradoxically, I could survive without any doubt in English; I wouldn’t drown. And yet, because I don’t want any contact with the water, I build bridges.”
Perhaps she may find the answer, just like she found the word – (v.) sondare (to probe, to explore).
Profile Image for soɥǝıๅɐ📚.
37 reviews7 followers
January 11, 2018
در به تصویر کشیدن احساساتش خیلی قویه.
بعد از خوندن کتاب آدم دوست داره به کارهای مورد علاقه اش بیشتر برسه
قسمتی از متن کتاب «وقتی عاشقی دلت میخواهد تا ابد زندگی کنی دلت می خواهد شور و احساسی که در دل داری»
Profile Image for Stacey D. .
323 reviews27 followers
May 5, 2016
A book of exceptional depth and insight. I'm amazed at Lahiri's dedication to Italian, after many years and many arduous attempts at learning the language in America, she uproots her family and moves from Brooklyn to Rome in her desire to become immersed in the language. Self-indulgent? Sure. But then, to write such a deep novel in Italian after only two years of living there! While she states that it is autobiographical, the memoir is thoroughly imbued with her ongoing ambivalence and self-doubts. And though, in the end, she is proud of its publication, she feels as if it is a child writing for the first time.

The author's honesty is gripping. She uses a variety of lucid metaphors to express her feelings about learning a new language and includes her first two stories written entirely in Italian. While her mother tongue is Bengalese, she is forced to largely abandon it for English in early childhood. That she has had such great success as a fiction writer, with books set in Calcutta, a country she's never lived in, is testament to her talent. But at the same time, in writing this memoir, her latest work, she experiences ambivalence related to her identity, "the wall" that is always around her due to her appearance, her writing and ultimately, her ability to be taken seriously in Italian. Lahiri has always acknowledged having these feelings; but in learning Italian, that awareness only widens the chasm.

There is so much more here; you just have to read it. This was a library loan, but it's such a great reference book, good Italian reader (it's in Italian and English), I intend to buy it for my shelf. I recommend this book to readers, writers, to those who love linguistics and especially, those who love learning languages, as well as the many of us who have never quite felt comfortable in our own skin.

On a personal note, I wonder how readers read the book. Italian first? English first? Italian and English side-by-side?
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