Literary Musings: In Other Words
I've had In Other Words sitting on my dresser since April. Having loved Jhumpa Lahiri's work ever since we studied The Namesake in high school, I picked up the book the second I saw it... Why I didn't read it before now is beyond me, but I'm glad that I've finally done so.
My favorite thing about Lahiri's writing is that she understands the cultural split that defines my life. Born to Indian parents from Calcutta and raised in the US, she is open about feeling alienated from every culture she's belonged to. This makes its way into most of her writing, and I have always been grateful for it. My cultural alienation has different origins –– Turkish mother, American father, French education –– but it is very much the same. I don't feel fully at home in any of my childhood cultures, and that feeling is alienating in a way that never goes away. You grow up and create your own culture, but you always feel your lack of roots. Lahiri fights this in In Other Words by discussing how she's adopted a third language, a third culture, and that spoke to me even more, making me think of how I've tried to make my home in a fourth, in Switzerland.
Personal feeling aside, In Other Words is a fascinating, moving read on Lahiri's journey through the Italian language. In a series of essays, it follows her from her first trip to Italy to her decision to relocate and willingly step away from the English language in order to connect to a tongue she chooses and loves. Though decidedly different from her fiction and written in another language, it still reads in her marked voice –– fluidly and personally. I read the book in three short sittings and felt rejuvenated after doing so. I've been a bit down this week, and reading an effortless but powerful book made a difference.
You can find a few passages that spoke to me in my tumblr tag for the book, here. Though I've read The Namesake and Lahiri's two short story collections many times, I still haven't gotten to reading The Lowland. I think that's going to change very soon...