THE GENIUS OF LANGUAGE: Fifteen Writers Reflect on Their Mother Tongue

Wendy Lesser, Editor . Pantheon $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-375-42238-6

The 15 writers gathered in this often delightful collection consider the impact their bilingualism has had on the development of their craft: they would all agree with Luc Sante, who writes of his inexorable "internal foreignness." All the writers argue that, in some sense, it was precisely that feeling of displacement, of not quite fitting into the surrounding environment, that made them writers at all. For Sante, as for others, foreignness is both a curse and a blessing, and French—his mother tongue—becomes both the barrier to his perfect assimilation into his new American surroundings and a treasured secret, a sanctuary of words. The experience of exile from linguistic security simultaneously allowed the contributors the freedom of unencumbered expression. In a book that asks its contributors—among them Amy Tan, Josef Skvorecký and Ariel Dorfman—to look back at their formative years, it becomes almost inevitable that the essays will indulge in more than a little nostalgia, even when the youth depicted would not seem to provide fodder for fond remembrance. The essays often follow a narrative long familiar to Americans: from the linguistic and cultural security of the family to the attempt at assimilation into the (mostly) American environment through the rejection of the older tongue, to a belated appreciation for the traditions and expressions of old. Despite the somewhat predictable plot line, these writers, gathered by the founding editor of Threepenny Review , vividly recount the process that anyone who loves words goes through: the process of falling under the spell of language's seemingly infinite potential. (July 27)

Reviewed on: 05/10/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 141 pages - 978-0-307-48539-7
Paperback - 241 pages - 978-1-4000-3323-2
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