How Jhumpa Lahiri Learned to Write Again

Jhumpa Lahiri decided to learn Italian. Then she moved to Rome and stopped writing in English altogether. Her new memoir, ‘In Other Words,’ is an account of that linguistic pilgrimage—and her newfound freedom: WSJ

JhumpaAs a child, I thought nostalgia was—you didn’t want to go near that stuff because that’s what my mom had. She thought about Calcutta all the time. She wanted to go back there. She wanted everything to remind her of Calcutta. Coming back from Italy, I recognized those behaviors. Hearing someone speak Italian on the street and almost starting to cry, going up to them and saying, “Can I please just talk to you?” These kind of desperate behaviors. But I think what makes my case interesting, or peculiar, is that of course all of this is a fiction. All of this is constructed. My nostalgia for Rome, my attachment to the language, all of it is something that I created, I have willfully created, unlike my mother’s experience. I come from a family where my father actively left his homeland and had his experience, my mother passively followed and had her experience, I actively left the world that was familiar to me, the United States, I went away. I found something I had been looking for my whole life, which was happiness, you know? And then I came back here, and I’m grieving because I don’t have that same happiness here. I wasn’t able to feel that happiness here, the freedom to feel happy. And so strangely the point of all this is that even though the nostalgia has been crushing at times in the past three months, I’m strangely proud of it. Because the fact of having it means I belong somewhere.

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