cover image In Other Words

In Other Words

Jhumpa Lahiri, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. Knopf, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-101-87555-1

Readers who have followed Pulitzer-winner Lahiri's stellar career might be surprised to discover that she has written her latest book in Italian. In this slim, lyrical nonfiction debut, Lahiri (The Lowland) traces the progress of her love affair with the Italian language and the steps that caused her to move to Italy and stop reading and writing in English. Unlike Samuel Beckett and Vladimir Nabokov, who also wrote in adopted languages, Lahiri doesn't leap directly into fiction. Though the book contains a short story, "The Exchange," Lahiri's first order of business is to tell her own story. She writes exquisitely about her experiences with language: her first language was Bengali, but when her family moved to the United States, she made a difficult adjustment to using English at nursery school. Now, she reports, her literary life in English seems distant and unmoored from her self. By embracing the increased difficulty of writing in a new language, Lahiri has forced herself to write in short, syntactically simple sentences. For admirers of her previous work, it will feel strange but pleasant to read her writing in translation. Lahiri's unexpected metamorphosis provides a captivating and insightful lesson in the power of language to transform. (Feb.)