If Jhumpa Lahiri had not been so celebrated already as a fiction writer par excellence, this book from her would be a decent offering in English and perhaps a remarkable one written in Italian by a non-native speaker of the language. 

by Chandra Ganguly

JhumpaEverything in the book In Other Words written by Jhumpa Lahiri is written in Italian, with translations in English on the adjacent page, by Ann Goldstein. And even before I open the book, I am intrigued. I am about to read Jhumpa Lahiri in translation. How much would be lost in translation? And how much transmitted? And why was the title of the book not in Italian? The more I thought about it, the more it troubled me, why would a book in Italian not have the title in Italian? The answer is perhaps that the book was imagined as a translation of her from Italian into English versus simply a work in Italian that would and could stand on its own.

The tale of alienation and immigration, of loss and search for identity, voice and place in a new world is a story every person living in exile can identify with. Characters in all of Jhumpa Lahiri’s previous works have inhabited that space. And what takes a moment to absorb when reading this book is that this is Lahiri at her most honest and vulnerable. This is a first hand account of immigration, these are confessions, thoughts, ruminations written in her diary, later translated and formulated into a book by her publishers. I am both enchanted and a little embarrassed by the intimacy of her revelations, by her raw appeal for acceptance, “I ask of Italian, with a slight impatience: Permesso? May I? (p.17)…. Relationship takes place in exile…. In a state of separation… I have no friends in Rome. (p.35) I trade certainty for uncertainty. (p.37) My sole intention, along with a blind but sincere faith, is to be understood, and to understand myself. (p.59) Those who don’t belong to any specific place can’t, in fact, return anywhere.” (p.133)