Learning a foreign language is a kind of self-inflicted exile, one that is challenging and exhilarating at once. In Other Words is an intimate self-chronicling of Lahiri’s struggle and passion for mastering a foreign language. For Lahiri it was Italian. Originally written in Italian, it is told through a series of essays in Italian and English side-by-side.
I found this book because I enjoy memoirs. I didn’t know of Lahiri’s fame as I read In Other Words, and I think that was a gift. I was captivated by Lahiri from the first chapter, it was the metaphor about swimming along the edge of the lake that did it for me. By the end, I felt compelled to read everything this woman has written. I read this book late November last year and I’ve devoured The Namesake, The Lowland, and Interpreter of Maladies by early February.
Ultimately, In Other Words takes on the themes for which Lahiri is celebrated: identity, alienation, belonging. But it’s far more personal because, for the first time, she focuses on herself, not an imagined character. It’s insightful and perceptive. Even outside her comfort zone Lahiri dazzles. I’m giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 because I needed it to be longer.
P.S. I’m writing this review 3 months after reading the book.
Here are some of my highlights.
“But you can’t float without the possibility of drowning, of sinking. To know a new language, to immerse yourself, you have to leave the shore. Without a life vest. Without depending on solid ground.”
“Slowly, after a couple of months in Rome, I realize that I don’t check the dictionary so often. When I go out, it tends to stay in my purse, closed. As a result I start leaving it at home. I’m aware of a turning point. A sense of freedom and, at the same time, of loss. Of having grown up, at least a little.”
“As in many passionate relationships, my infatuation will become a devotion, an obsession. There will always be something unbalanced, unrequited. I’m in love, but what I love remains indifferent. The language will never need me.”