I think my friend Delaine was the one who introduced me to best-selling author, Jhumpa Lahiri. She was born in India and immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was a small child. Her brilliant novels/short stories take place in both India and the U.S. They’re not autobiographical, but she draws on her own experience with living between cultures.
Last year I discovered her newest book, her first non-fiction book, about her venture into learning a third language: Italian. She studies Italian off and on for 20 years, then finally moves to Rome. She wrote In Other Words entirely in Italian. (Someone else translated it into English for the version I read.)
As someone who has struggled learning a second language, I am floored by her determination and ability to do this. For two years (or more?), SHE GAVE UP READING/WRITING IN ENGLISH.
I cannot fathom this. I know know know that I could learn Khmer so much better/more quickly if I wasn’t constantly filling my brain with English, but reading and writing (in English) are my EVERYTHING. Wow.
I loved this book (I just re-read it this week), because it’s about words and writing and it’s about learning another language and being caught between worlds. And she’s just a really great writer–even in Italian.
She talks about her childhood learning English in preschool while her parents spoke only Bengali.
I realized that I had to speak both languages extremely well: the one to please my parents, the other to survive in America. I remained suspended, torn between the two… Those two languages of mine didn’t get along, They were incompatible adversaries, intolerant of each other. I thought they had nothing in common except me, so that I felt like a contradiction in terms of myself.
The arrival of Italian, the third point on my linguistic journey, creates a triangle… The third point changes the dynamic of that quarrelsome old couple. I am the child of those unhappy points, but the third does not come from them. It comes from my desire, my labor. It comes from me.
She talks about going between two languages, something I am learning how to do and loving.
I think that translating is the most profound, most intimate way of reading. A translation is a wonderful, dynamic encounter between two languages, two texts, two writers. It entails a doubling, a renewal.
So much good stuff in this book. And in her novels (which I want to reread now that I feel like I know her better).
And then a couple weeks ago, I came across this small volume of hers: The Clothing of Books. Our online digital library didn’t have it, and it was only $2.99 for the Kindle, so I bought it. Again, as a writer who loves books and loves to read books about books, it made me very happy. It’s all about book covers and how they often get in the way of the words inside.
What does it say about me that I loved a book about book covers? (NERD. And proud of it.)
So, Jhumpa Lahiri. I think you will love her. I can’t wait for her next book.
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Books by/about refugees.
Day 3: Books about race & faith.
Day 4: Books about race & faith, cont’d.
Day 5: Book about a family with a transgender child.
Day 6: Just Mercy.
Day 7: The New Jim Crow.
Day 8: Rescuing Jesus.
Day 9: The Very Good Gospel.
Day 10: The Fire Next Time.
Day 11: The Color Purple.
Day 12: Diverse Books for Bamboo Libraries
Day 13: The Hate U Give.
(All links are Amazon Associate links.)