Date finished: February 5, 2019

Rating: ★★★★

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri, translated by Ann Goldstein

Jhumpa Lahiri, author of Interpreter of Maladies and The Lowland, is a captivating writer, and she gives readers a glimpse into her own life, loves, and struggles with In Other Words, her first nonfictional book.

Lahiri moved from London to Rhode Island with her family as a young child, and spent her life in the US until moving to Italy with her family to immerse herself in the language she’s come to love.

In Other Words was written by Lahiri in Italian and later translated by Ann Goldstein into English. The text is presented beautifully with the Italian on the left pages and English on the right. I’ve never read a text like this that wasn’t meant specifically for learning or practicing another language, and I appreciate that Lahiri and her publisher chose to maintain her original Italian alongside the translated English.

As someone who has learned, appreciated, and loved another language (French, in my case), I so admire and respect Lahiri’s endless dedication to pursuing and perfecting her Italian — both spoken and written. The early chapters of In Other Words reflect Lahiri’s struggles and frustrations with the language and its many nuances, but as the story progresses we see Lahiri growing into the words and into herself via beautiful storytelling and expression.

Most memorably, Lahiri talks about her struggle with belonging, both in the US and in Italy. Her parents, both from Calcutta, had her speak Bengali at home and English at school, causing a rift in her life from a young age. Then, after dedicating herself to Italian and moving to Italy, she’s struggled to fit in there as well, where people constantly ask why and how she knows the language or assume she learned it from her husband (who looks more Italian than she but knows much less of the language). Not only has she worked tirelessly to master three languages, she’s dealt with the assumptions, judgements, and critics along the way in regards to each.

In Other Words is both beautiful and affecting, and I have even more respect for Lahiri after reading it. Highly recommend.

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