Last Christmas, my sister gave me an English-Italian book: it was written by an American author – in Italian – and translated back into English; both versions are presented side by side. Jhumpa Lahiri, who many years ago was caught by the inexplicable urge to know Italian inside and out, did not live in Italy or learn the language until adulthood – she relied on snatches of tuition and laborious self-study in the States.
Eventually Lahiri made the decision to move her family to Rome and write exclusively in Italian. The result is In Other Words, a rumination not just on the Italian language, but on writing, the art of expression, and the struggle in finding one’s voice. It is also a glimpse into one woman’s – understandable – obsession.
We get to learn about some of her simple daily struggles to be understood in Rome, but I most related to her attempt to explain the compulsion to adopt another language, take those imperfect foundations, and nurture it into something else with which you can express yourself. The second language – if learned as an adult – will most likely be the weird cousin to your mother tongue, coming from the same mind but producing decidedly different and mixed results. This is the start of one woman’s journey to untangle her Italian and use it in a way which is readable, and slightly wonky, but all her own creation. It is a real inspiration.