In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri, translated by Ann Goldstein


In Other Words - Jhumpa Lahiri,Ann GoldsteinI love the concept of this memoir. It’s not a memoir of Lahiri’s life, just her obsession with learning and speaking Italian. I can relate, having lived in Italy a while and falling in love with the language, but my desire to learn it is nowhere near Lahiri’s. Finding out that it’s actually a memoir of learning another language really made me love the title too.

She also read the audiobook herself, which is something I always love. Don’t get me wrong, I get the point between needing a separate narrator for books, but I especially love a memoir read by the author. It’s not common, but I have run across those who don’t. I enjoyed the audiobook and her manner of speaking throughout it. Lahiri has a beautiful voice.

As far as her obsession itself and the many methods by which she went through the process of learning Italian, I am pretty inspired. I’ve been struggling with Spanish my whole life. I’m Cuban on my mother’s side but also first generation American born there too, so Spanish had been her first language and that of most of her side of the family. I could talk to them with limited ability to speak but a lot of understanding what they were saying as a child but I couldn’t speak Spanish. Most of them know English by now too but inevitably return to their first language when they’re together. I catch snippets, but that’s about it these days. I just haven’t been in a Spanish language environment enough to sustain what I knew since I moved out.

BUT Lahiri’s idea to start a journal or diary in that language is genius. Even if it’s all wrong, there is this safe space for trying pull the language out of your own brain, for trying to put together sentences when there is time to do so. One of the things that has driven me crazy about learning Spanish is the way people are always like “Just go out there and talk to people” and “immersion is the best method!” Somewhere along the way, these people missed that I am an introverted nerd who is uncomfortable and awkward enough speaking my first language in a group of strangers let alone a language that I am still trying to learn.

Given my experiences attempting Spanish, particularly since leaving Miami, I find all of Lahiri’s methods inspired and brave. She moved to Italy to help herself learn Italian after she had tutoring and already knew two other languages. That’s some dedication. I also love her stories about living in Italy and the comments she got. I was more like her husband, getting confused for locals all the time, but I witnessed plenty of interactions like she talks about when out with friends. Of course, I’m terrible with language and added this other awkward layer to the situation because I looked like a local but couldn’t speak it and many of my more Caucasian or non-Hispanic friends stood out like a sore thumb but spoke beautiful Italian. It happens in Miami too with some fluent friends. It’s always fairly entertaining, especially with my father who is blond with blue eyes and very fair skin. People will be speaking Spanish around him like he’s not even there and sometimes talking about him and he’ll smile and ask a question in poorly accented but good Spanish and everyone freezes.

Getting back to Lahiri, the book is quite short though. I listened to the audiobook which is almost 7 hours but is read in both English and Italian. The content ends up being about half that, and you could listen to both languages but I didn’t. I also loved her note that she originally wrote the book in Italian and specifically did not do the translation into English on her own. I can’t get over that she wrote it in Italian in the first place.

This is a great book about Italian and language and obsession. I loved every minuted of listening to it and plan to employ some of her strategies. I borrowed the book from my library, but if you’re interested in buying it, click on the cover image and be redirected to Booklikes for worldwide options. You can also add to Goodreads here for later!

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