In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

Graphic by Madhavi Verma

Non-fiction that resembles waves.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing is a string that continues to flawlessly knit words and experiences together. In Other Words, her non-fiction work, which was published in 2015, contains biographical details too. This text includes her thoughts and experiences while learning and drowning in a different language, in this case, Italian. She lets us know about her struggle as she dives into dictionaries and books in order to master an alien language, further internalizing it.

This book is an excellent resource for translators, those interested in cross-cultural studies, and even those who want to accept and value diversity in order to become better people. Lahiri demonstrates the phenomenon of language acquisition, absorbing its underlying cultural, historical, and social backdrop in addition to learning about it. It describes how juggling two very different worlds may affect one’s personal life, the struggle to find a career, and the determination to make it seem normal. As presented in the manner of a romance, love can become obsessional, demand patience, and experience continuous rebirth as a Phoenix. Every time she fails in an attempt to speak Italian, she comes back with more reasons to embrace it. She hops between symbolism and metaphors, describing her relationship to languages. From a swimmer to a lover and a mother, Lahiri doesn’t fail to let her comparisons fall short.

In the first chapter, The Crossing compares her initial stage of indulgence with Italian with the lake crossing incident, which is repeated further. However, by the end, it’s evident that until you lose your fears and doubts, you cannot understand what lies within. It’s the act of venturing into the unknown, experiencing the unexpected, and making the strokes of survival that speak for your mastery over the difficult. Bengali, English, and Italian, are languages that create and acquire parts of her life; she declares that she feels related to none of them. She let her vulnerabilities show while attempting to create a new identity through a new language. Lahiri, as a writer, to a large extent normalizes the frustration, anxieties, and demotivation that humans go through, making the piece of work universal.

“It’s as if I were writing with my left hand, my weak hand, the one I’m not supposed to write with. It seems like a transgression, a rebellion, an act of stupidity.”
“The anxiety I felt, and still feel, comes from a sense of inadequacy, of being a disappointment.”

The author has shifted to Rome in order to learn the language, experience the culture, and establish a new identity. Her decisions and motivated action show her brilliance as a writer and an explorer. This text epitomizes endurance, even though the narrative might sound a bit repetitive since she constantly narrates about her struggles on a single aspect, it also throws light on the way she has endured the painstaking process. Her flow of words does not stop but instead transitions smoothly from experiences to self-reflection and intrapersonal communication. The chapters are broken up into manageable chunks, which enhance the cohesiveness of an idea or experience in a given area and contribute to the reading’s overall flow. If you’re not Italian, you should keep Google on hand because this book, even in its translated form, exudes a love for the language. The book encourages you to consider the languages you speak and to be conscious of your connection to what comes forth from your tongue, thereby broadening your perspective.

You will learn to view the function of language in a new light, specifically from Lahiri’s perspective, thus I recommend readers at least give this a read. This text might appeal to you on a multitude of levels if you have a specialization in translation. Even though the author has chosen two well-known national languages, I think anyone who is bilingual or multilingual might understand this text effectively because when handling dialects, one must engage in mental juggling before expressing the message in languages. Read it to understand the intricacies of the struggle a writer goes through in terms of representing cultures, languages, and thoughts.

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