learning italian: 1 post

In Other Words : Jhumpa Lahiri’s Italian Peregrinations

“The unknown words remind me that there’s a lot I don’t know in this world,” writes Jhumpa Lahiri in her memoir about learning Italian, In Other Words/In Altre Parole. It was the first sentence I read as I flipped through the slim volume at the bookstore, and I flashed back on years of studying languages and the part I always loved–finding new words and new shades of meaning in the familiar ones.  Words, with their roots borrowed from distant times and places, hid other worlds of experiences, ideas and thoughts, and even as I stumbled upon the strange grammar constructions and irregular verbs, learning a new language felt like an exhilarating journey.


Lahiri’s particular gift as a writer, whether in her collections of short stories, such Interpreter of Maladies for which she won a Pulitzer prize, or in novels like The Namesake is to draw the curtain on the inner world of her characters. In her new book, Lahiri once again focuses on the subtle and the evanescent, but the exploration is of her own self. Without revealing personal details, it’s a strangely intimate and candid book. I read it, feeling alternatively as a voyeur or a trusted confidant. Days after finishing it, I kept missing Lahiri’s soliloquies and I re-read some passages several times. She’s an earnest, thoughtful companion, and her crisp, clear style–in both Italian and English–has the alluring simplicity of a Japanese calligraphy painting. A few lines say volumes.

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