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National Best Seller
From the best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winner, a powerful nonfiction debut—an “honest, engaging, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
In Other Words is a revelation. It is at heart a love story—of a long and sometimes difficult courtship, and a passion that verges on obsession: that of a writer for another language. For Jhumpa Lahiri, that love was for Italian, which first captivated and capsized her during a trip to Florence after college. Although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterward, true mastery always eluded her.
Seeking full immersion, she decides to move to Rome with her family, for “a trial by fire, a sort of baptism” into a new language and world. There, she begins to read, and to write—initially in her journal—solely in Italian. In Other Words, an autobiographical work written in Italian, investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice.
Presented in a dual-language format, this is a wholly original book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with an intensity and clarity not seen since Vladimir Nabokov: a startling act of self-reflection and a provocative exploration of belonging and reinvention.
From the Hardcover edition.
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“Gorgeous . . . the most unusual of self-portraits. It is fitting that Italy, a nation with no unifying language for centuries, should inspire a writer of Jhumpa Lahiri’s stature to organize her reflections around the concept of exile. Why abandon the English language that made her famous, and move with her family to Rome? Because she was in love . . . Lahiri’s exuberant tone may surprise readers used to the understatement and quiet grace of her acclaimed novels and short stories. In Other Words presents the same author with a different voice—a new expressive vein. The [book’s] bilingual format is appropriate: All the personal experiences are connected to linguistic ones, all the linguistic issues refracted through the author’s life. In Other Words ends at a crossroads, with Lahiri set to leave Rome and return to America, not knowing what will come of her affair with Italian. Dante’s words [about exile] seem relevant when speaking about In Other Words, a book that is everywhere about displacement and the discoveries it can lead to. Lahiri reached out to Italian when English stopped offering her the solitude she craved as a writer; now that she has left Italy we must wait to see where the arrow of exile points her.” —Joseph Luzzi, The New York Times Book Review
“Bold, elegant, poignant. In Other Words artfully and touchingly paints Lahiri’s journey into a new life. Her joy in working with language emanates from every page; the uncomplicated frankness of her voice allows her to cover a satisfyingly wide range of subjects. She expresses and reframes sentiments about the nature of love, both romantic and maternal, through the lens of her relationship to Italian, and offers fascinating peeks into her world. . . . Even while it resonates with haunting vulnerability, overall the book never feels too densely confessional. As a milestone in Lahiri’s career, In Other Words embodies a tremendous feat: the relinquishment of the mastery and comfort of the old, and the complete, unsparing immersion in the new. In what felt to her like a dangerous leap of faith, she lets her insights stand naked and alone, garbed in neither character nor plot—and all the more beautiful and true for their lovely guilelessness.. . . A pleasure to read.” —Emily Zhao, The Harvard Crimson
“What separates an artist from a creator is one’s insatiable desire to develop his or her craft, one’s perpetual feelings of dissatisfaction and the willingness to embrace challenges, even if that means reinvention. Lahiri’s new book is an expression of just this.” —Nicholas LaRousse, Everyday eBook
“A love letter to language, Lahiri delivers a stunning memoir . . . The journey of a writer seeking a new voice, In Other Words is especially a must-read for language nerds—and anyone who writes.” —Melissa Ragsdale, Bustle, “12 Women of Color Authors You Need to Know This Year”
“In Other Words is about Lahiri’s obsessive desire to learn Italian, and the quest to find an authentic authorial voice. Writing in Italian gave Lahiri a license to be imperfect. Buried ‘under all the mistakes, all the rough spots, is something precious. A new voice, crude but alive,’ she writes . . . Lahiri’s writing in Italian is simpler than her English prose. Just the essential words, feelings and hints of scene remain. It’s not clear if Italian will be the new home for her writing, or if she will eventually resume work in English. Regardless of the language, I know I will want to read it.” —Julie Hakim Azzam, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Jhumpa Lahiri is at a crossroads. The Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer never fully identified with English, or with Bengali for that matter, leading her to seek a third language . . . Whatever language Lahiri decides to continue working in, her strength as an interpreter and translator between cultures will remain; she possesses the power to universalize the very particular experiences of cultural and linguistic transplants. It allows her to achieve the highest form of art: pieces so transformative a reader cannot help but regard strangers with greater understanding.” —Anne Kniggendorf, Kansas City Star
“Deeply pleasurable. In Other Words gives off the intoxication of metamorphosis; it puts one in the company of a beautiful mind engaged in a sustaining and bracing discipline. The reader who takes it up holds an appealing, missal-sized text, with the Italian printed on the left and English on the right. It is Lahiri’s first book of nonfiction, yet it contains two short stories. In introducing one, Lahiri tells us the symbolism of a missing black sweater in the story—it is language. In this diverting way, a reader bobs in the wake of Lahiri’s grand experiment. The cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker notes that ‘language comes so naturally to us that we’re apt to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is.’ On every page—including the half that monolinguists can’t fathom—Lahiri’s magnificent book reminds us.” —Karen Long, Los Angeles Times
“Urgent and raw . . . In her critically praised works of fiction, Lahiri drew on the experience of her parents, who clung to the traditions of India long after coming to the U.S. But her new book reveals how deeply Lahiri has felt displacement and alienation herself, and the thrilling distance she’ll go to make sense of it. The memoir chronicles her obsession with Italian, which leads her to take on the radical experiment of writing this book in a language she’s still trying to master. The process is like a love affair . . . Through this linguistic autobiography, Lahiri appears to forge a new sense of belonging. Using discomfort to shatter her own status quo, she produces a startlingly different voice—still Lahiri’s, but stripped down to its essence.” —Leigh Haber, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Dazzling . . . Lahiri’s fascination with the beauty of language now has produced an affecting account, written in Italian, of her effort to master that language . . . She reflects on everything from the challenges of thought and expression in a foreign tongue to the mystery of creativity.” —Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
“Deeply personal and candid . . . In this brief, meditative memoir Lahiri shares the story of her passion for Italian and how she set out to master it. By unlocking the Italian language, she makes unexpected discoveries about herself as a writer. Lahiri’s many fans will not be surprised to learn that she succeeds in her linguistic undertaking, achieving her usual artistry and delivering an impassioned valentine to the most lyrical of languages.” —Julie Hale, Book Page
“Elegant, emotionally resonant . . . In Other Words seems most animated by questions of change—specifically, Lahiri’s desire to ‘take another direction’ in her fiction. Immersing herself in Italian for three years was her way of forcing herself to change her relationship to language and storytelling. And it was a dramatic immersion . . . Learning Italian also represents a kind of freedom for Lahiri in terms of her writing career . . . Its in-between, searching qualities hint at new work to come.” —Hannah Gersen, The Millions
“Illuminating . . . In her first nonfiction work, her first truly autobiographical writing, Lahiri records her linguistic journey with unblinking honesty. The raw intimacy [in In Other Words] offers an illuminating gift with which future titles can and will be read. Being viewed as foreign—in India for not being Indian; in the U.S. for not looking American; in her chosen temporary home for being other—‘no one, anywhere, assumes I speak the languages that are part of me,’ Lahiri wryly observes. Writing is how she makes sense of her life; it gives her both anonymity and identity. Her unwavering determination will never make her an Italian writer, she realizes, but ‘I am, in Italian, a tougher freer writer, who in taking root again, grows in a different way.’” —Terry Hong, The Christian Science Monitor
“An immediate classic . . . Written in hard-won Italian and reverberating with the energy of literary experiment, Lahiri’s In Other Words announces the birth of a modernist. It describes the transformation of a writer exchanging the patient, polished realism of her first four books for abstraction. It is a pleasure to witness sudden artistic metamorphosis, and Lahiri’s transizione radicale from English to Italian creates an urgent aesthetic tenor that contrasts sharply with the author’s hallmark restraint . . . In Other Words’s artistic daring rivals its linguistic daring . . . The author’s aesthetic ambitions—as ever—stand apart from the historical particulars of Indian identity. Here, in the spirit of Eliot and Stevens, Joyce and Beckett, Lahiri discovers that ‘unknown words represent a dizzying, fruitful abyss.’ Like her modernist predecessors, she accepts l’abisso as the simultaneously generative and paralyzing force behind her art . . . Here is a portrait of the artist wrought from the raw material of exile, capturing rather than attempting to transcend a ‘state of total confusion.’” —Urmila Seshagiri, Public Books
“Intimate and powerful . . . Lahiri's new book may well be a genre unto itself; it recounts a radical shift in the course of her life. In Other Words is a travelogue, a diary, a recounting of the author’s flirtation and, finally, all-out love affair with Italian, her third language, after Bengali and English. ‘Writing in another language represents an act of demolition, a new beginning,’ she observes. Sometimes frustration gets the best of her. And yet, the immersion works. The limitations of her Italian free her up to stumble, to experiment, to grow new roots in a new place. Her experience is at once disorienting and ecstatic . . . Throughout, Lahiri’s vulnerability is palpable: each chapter is an open window, a chance to breathe the air of someone else's heady adventure.” —Maggie Galehouse, Houston Chronicle
“Lahiri tackles complex subjects with insight and clarity, in an exploration of what words really mean to a writer . . . On the page, Lahiri appears to be most comfortable outside of her comfort zone—her relentless desire to challenge herself, and her art form, is insatiable . . . In Other Words details her struggle to understand her identity in a language that, in spite of her commitment to its form, will forever be foreign to her.” —Baihley Grandison, Writer’s Digest
“Lovely and profound . . . The most evocative, unpretentious, astute account of a writing life I have read . . . Lahiri, one of the most intellectually elegant novelists in the world, composed In Other Words in Italian. The English translation by Ann Goldstein participates in an exquisite duet across the page with Lahiri’s Italian. Strikingly honest, lyrical, untouched by sentimentality, In Other Words chronicles as philosophical and quotidian a courtship with a language as Ovid’s The Art of Love does with amore itself . . . Lahiri unabashedly asks and answers big and vexing questions. In Other Words is [also] a family story, one dealing with the vicissitudes and unpredictable blessings of relocating husband and children to a different world, with how memories are constructed, with the sense of life as makeshift. For its treatment of such experiences, her memoir belongs on the same shelf as Anthony Doerr’s Four Seasons in Rome . . . Whether or not Lahiri chooses to write her future books in Italian, what matters is not linguistic provenance but the quality of the prose. Words like ‘enduring’ and ‘indispensable’ should be saved for only the rarest literary achievements, and the memoir In Other Words is one of those.” —Howard Norman, The Washington Post
“A revelation of how a writer finds her voice, intertwined with meditations on the estrangement that her identity as the child of Indian immigrants has imposed on her relationship to English . . . Lahiri captures the word-lover’s delight at finding a new world of language. Her renunciation of her prowess in English offers an opportunity for rebirth—the power of hitting up against her own limits. She meticulously charts her second coming of age, and her discovery of a new voice . . . This freedom to abandon everything known and sure, and to begin anew, is the best writing advice out there. A linguistic memoir that actually tells the story of a transformation of identity: in Lahiri’s hands, an invaluable insight into the craft of writing, not as storytelling but as speaking the self into existence.” —Marthine Satris, San Francisco Chronicle
“Stunning . . . a poignant, probing odyssey. Over the course of four novels and story collections, Pulitzer Prize-winning Lahiri has written about themes of identity, estrangement and belonging. All the while, the Indian-American author has faced these issues herself. Torn between two worlds, she has felt like an outsider in both. Then the plot thickened: She fell in love with Italy and dreamed of immersing herself in its language and culture. Hers was no Berlitz approach; it was an infatuation that became an obsession. The author has spent a lifetime caught in the clash between her parents’ Old World customs and the American culture that has so rewarded her achievements . . . In the end, Italy proves to be the author’s Switzerland, a place to neutralize tensions that have haunted her for decades. Learning it is an act of rebirth, of rebuilding a fractured self and changing course. In Other Words appeals on many levels—as a passion project, cultural document and psychological study. True to the nature of her quest, Lahiri wrote this book in Italian, rough edges and all; it conveys an intimate view of the complicated bonds that exist between language and identity.” —Joan Silverman, Portland Press Herald
“Intimate, intriguing . . . Written in a frank, unstudied style, In Other Words feels like a conversation in which the author is speaking directly to us . . . The core of the book—and the thing that makes it more than just a writer’s memoir—is the scrupulous, detailed, almost obsessive chronicling of what it’s like to learn a language as an adult. Lahiri brilliantly captures the stages of language acquisition [and] pushes herself much harder and farther than most . . . I was charmed by this project . . . At some level this book is not about the explorer; it is about the territory covered. Plenty of others have learned languages, even as adults, but not too many writers have undertaken to learn a language well enough to write in it. And fewer still—if, indeed, any—have left such a compelling record of what that was like.” —Christina Thompson, The Boston Globe
“A bravura book. It will touch every reader young and old, about the pleasure and pain of undertaking a new experience that tests one’s personhood and intellectual mettle.” —Michael D. Langan, Buffalo News
“A lexical love affair . . . I...
JHUMPA LAHIRI is the author of four works of fiction: Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, and The Lowland; and a work of nonfiction, In Other Words. She has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize; the PEN/Hemingway Award; the PEN/Malamud Award; the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; the Premio Gregor von Rezzori; the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature; a 2014 National Humanities Medal, awarded by President Barack Obama; and the Premio Internazionale Viareggio-Versilia, for In altre parole.
ANN GOLDSTEIN is an editor at The New Yorker. She has translated works by, among others, Elena Ferrante, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Primo Levi, Giacomo Leopardi, and Alessandro Baricco, and is the editor of The Complete Works of Primo Levi in English. She has been the recipient of the PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and awards from the Italian Foreign Ministry and from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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