Lindsay Lewis

English/ ESL consultant: Word worker, writer, teacher, mentor and poet. Author of This Won’t Hurt a Bit! on writing clear content.

In Other Words- Jumpa Lahiri

Posted by on Sep 4, 2019

I’m currently reading Jhumpha Lahiri’s book In Other Words which is in fact her journey into learning another language- in this case Italian. The book resonates with me because I also feel so thrilled when I feel the word in my bones, feel it bouncing off my tongue, and feel understood by a native speaker. I taught myself a decent amount of Greek, and would thrill at the sounds cascading around my mouth. Just articulating such a beautiful language as Greek, or in this case Italian, is enough.

Her book is written in Italian and English. How I long for the opportunity to do as she did- and actually study the language in its country. She had the luxury of learning it in Rome, whereas I fly by the seat of my pants with a grammar book, dictionary and big ears.

I too am studying Italian… I hear the echoes of ancient Greek in it, and what a gorgeous language it is.

As Lahiri states in her novel, ” A conversation involves a…collaboration, and…an act of forgiveness. When I speak I can make mistakes, but I’m somehow able to make myself understood. On the page I am alone. … In spite of the humiliation I continue… because buried under all the mistakes… is something precious.  A new voice, crude but alive, to improve, to elaborate.”

Thank you Jumpa for articulating this deeply embedded passion so beautifully.

If you are not familiar with Jumpa, I highly recommend her novel Interpreter of Maladies which is a collection of short stories, many of which explore her sense of separateness or misunderstandings which arise from her Indian background and her living in the United States.

My only sadness with In Other Words is that she chose Italian, and not Bengali , which is her native tongue. She discusses the shame she felt hearing her mother speak it as a child, a shame shared by most parents who immigrated to the new world and had to adapt. I understand.

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