Book review: In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri's latest book is a love story – a different, sweet and earnest one. Known for her popular page-turners like Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth and The Lowland, the author's latest is an autobiographical work titled In Other Words, (Penguin India). It marks her debut in the non-fiction category. Describing her initially blow-hot-blow-cold encounter with the Italian language, which eventually stabilizes into a more passionate relationship, the book takes us through different phases of Lahiri's life, giving readers a sense of having a personal connection with the celebrated author.

The book begins with a description Lahiri's love for Italian during a trip to Florence, after college. Although she studied the language for many years afterward, she wasn't able to master it. So in 2012, she decided to move to Rome for 'a trial by fire, a sort of baptism,' where she began to read, and to write solely in Italian. Ann Goldstein has translated the book from its original Italian version. There is simplicity in the words and the style of narration, which we think, comes from writing in a foreign language and makes the text even more endearing. It appears like the author has sorted a lot of the confusion going on in her mind, and is able to reflect on the events of the past with utmost clarity. Apart from her own experiences, Lahiri also manages to look at and investigate the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice.

She describes her initial years as a time she used English as a crutch, and explains that learning a foreign language like that ensures that you won't drown, as the other language is there to save you. She explains that learning a foreign language needs one to leave the shore without a life vest. She describes how she learnt new words and makes a comparison with English, talking about how she would rewrite everything like a "lunatic" till it satisfies her while writing in English and in Italian, "she just has to keep going, like a soldier in the desert." The love story starts resembling a passionate, bordering on crazy one when Lahiri explains that she didn't really need to know Italian since she wasn't an Italian resident, neither did she have friends who were from that country. She simply succumbed to a desire so strong that when she compares the time when she didn't succeed initially to how one feels when the one their love remains indifferent. One can almost feel the heartbreak when Lahiri says, "The language will never need me."

Lahiri also talks about her roots in Bengal; English being a representation of foreign culture for her parents, which gives the reader a background and context. She also admits to having been afraid to write an autobiographical piece, because she thought of it as being less creative, lazy and egocentric to talk of one's own experiences while she believed it was virtuous to talk about others. Read In Other Words for its simplicity and from-the-heart approach.

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri, Penguin Random House, Rs 399. Available at leading bookstores and e-stores

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