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In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

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….Investigating my discovery of the language, I think I have investigated myself. The verb sondare means ‘to explore, to examine’…….A well aimed verb that perfectly explains my project….. 

In altre parole/In Other Words is Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut in the world of autobiographical non-fiction. It explores her relationship with words- words in her native tongue Bengali, a language which her parents tried to tie her down to; words in English, her main language; words in Italian, her new found love………….If I want to understand what moves me, what confuses me, what pains me- everything that makes me react, in short- I have to put it into words. Writing is my only way of absorbing and organising life. Otherwise it would terrify me , it would upset me too much…….

For Jhumpa, caught up in a triangle of Bengali, Italian and English, the realisation that English would never abandon her, helps her come to terms with the fact that English that has given her a clear and correct voice. However, her romance with Italian helps her rediscover writing in a whole new wanton manner…….…..Imperfection inspires invention, imagination, creativity. It stimulates. The more I feel imperfect, the more I feel alive. I’ve been writing since I was a child in order to forget my imperfections…… In her first attempt at non fiction, she metaphorically writes about leaving the safe shore and immersing herself, without a life vest, into the ocean. The outcome of this is an imperfect, yet straight from the heart account, from the Pulitzer Prize winner.

This book is not just about her budding romance with Italian, or about the estrangement with languages she has known longer, it is about her relationship with the written word. Through words, she revisits her own feelings and rediscovers her inner self.  This book describes her journey as a writer – her failures and her successes.

It took me about 4-5 hours reading this personal narrative. With a pencil in my hand, I underlined her references to language, the written word and her inner most complexities. It resonated with my own journey, and the book found me when the timing was right.

Having grown up in Punjab, amidst Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu, English was the language that took priority. Jane Austen, Barbara Cartland, Shakespeare and Mark Twain made the language seem beautiful. I read in English and English was the language of my thoughts. 1997 was when Russian was added to my repertoire(forcibly, as I moved to Moscow) and a mix of English and Russian kept me going. Year 2000 and I found myself in tropical Sri Lanka, where most people speak English. My children took on English as their first language in order to fit in better and English became the language that held my family together. It was then that I started yearning for the languages I grew up with. My relationship with languages is very similar to that of Jhumpa. While I still write in English, my heart speaks Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu- the languages I grew up with and as far as my children are concerned, though English is still their first language, their relationship with Punjabi and Hindi is blossoming!!!!

Jhumpa writes beautifully and her fictional novels have the power to connect beautifully with the readers. Her characters come alive and tell their story. With this personal narrative, Jhumpa lets her readers connect with her inner self and understand her better; her connection and relationship is something one who has stayed away from their country/ region can relate too. Her metaphorical references to language make the book a pleasure to read.

Just as a word can have many dimensions, many nuances, great complexity, so, too, can a person, a life. Language is the mirror, the principal metaphor. Because ultimately the meaning of a word, like that of a person, is boundless, ineffable….

Highly recommended!

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This entry was posted on April 24, 2016 by in Book Reviews, Non Fiction and tagged , , .
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