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Review of In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

May 14, 2017

Review of In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan

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It would not be an exaggeration if I say that In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri was one of the most different books I’ve read in my life. It is Jhumpa Lahiri’s first nonfiction piece actually penned in Italian and then translated into English surprisingly not by Pulitzer Prize-Winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, but by Ann Goldstein another acclaimed translator and writer. In order to understand why Jhumpa Lahiri did something like this, when she could have easily translated her own book into English, you will have to read the book to find the answer to that question. The book describes in scaled down narrative form, compared to the author’s The Namesake, the affair that Jhumpa Lahiri is having, not with a person, but with a language that is not related to her in any way. The language is Italian, and Jhumpa Lahiri has been smitten by it and wishes to dedicate the rest of her life to studying Italian, and writing books in that language. When I read the book, in the beginning I got a terrible shock when I realized that apparently Jhumpa Lahiri was perhaps going to give up writing in English. ‘No!’ I thought to myself, ‘I’ve just discovered you, and you’re amazing and you can’t stop writing now!’ However, as I read on, I understood and realized the reasons behind her decision and I respect them. Those of you who have read Jhumpa Lahiri’s English prose, will be in for a shock when you read In Other Words which does not resemble the author’s earlier style at all. Yet, you will be compelled to read the book about the relationship that transcends all other relationships, and that is the relationship a person, especially a writer, has with the language which she wants to express herself in. The book also talks about the importance of a mother tongue or language, and the stereotype attitude one has towards people who don’t act the way we do, and how we wash them off. The book is thought provoking, soul searching and it can sometimes make you cry.  After I read the book, I thanked my stars that unlike Jhumpa Lahiri who does not have a language which she ‘belongs totally’ to, I have Hindi which is my country’s national language, and which I know pretty well. When you read In Other Words, you can actually feel the anguish and agony and yet the bliss and satisfaction Jhumpa Lahiri feels when she is trying to write in Italian, which she had to learn from scratch. The theme of belonging and not belonging to a particular region and language boldly crops up here, which informs the reader of Jhumpa Lahiri’s ultimate quest to find that language and region which she can truly feel is her own. There are two fiction stories originally penned in Italian here in this book which are a treat to read. The book ends with a question, and I hope Jhumpa Lahiri finds an answer to that question as soon as possible, and achieves her desire vis-a-vis the Italian language, the language she has courted for a long time. A very well written part memoir and part self-reflection. Kudos to the writer on a job well done.

Copyright ©2017 Fiza Pathan

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