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  • Yuki Tejima

Jhumpa Lahiri in Other Words

One of my favorite authors Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London to Bengali parents, moved to the US as a young child, wrote several English bestselling novels including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies, then moved to Rome in her 40s with her family. She wrote In Other Words (pictured), a book of essays, entirely in Italian, which I read in Japanese. I leaf through the pages often, in awe of Lahiri’s dedication to her new language, setting her very successful writing life aside to read and write only in Italian. She writes about the objections to her decision to move abroad, how readers ask for an English novel (I don’t blame them/me), why she started from absolute scratch. Writing in Italian, she says at first, was like writing with her left hand. It is about feeling like an intruder, like a con artist. It’s writing without confidence, losing her authority as a writer. Then why do it? Because, she says, writing in Italian gives her the freedom of imperfection. (This may be worded differently in English, as I read the book in Japanese.) Now, I don’t have a Pulitzer on my mantel (I don’t even have a mantel), but I know a little about trying to express myself in more than one language. About wondering how much is really you and how much is someone who sounds vaguely like you, but wait, which IS the real you? As long as Lahiri continues to write, in any language, I will read every word. Because she helps me make sense about why I choose to live and write in two languages, when honestly, it’s a little bit tiring on the brain.

Her first Italian novel Dove mi trivo was recently translated into Japanese. I can’t find an English translation, but I’m sure it’s coming in no time.


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