In our previous post, we discussed a few important points from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts. If you have not read it, click here. There we learned about the influence of Italian culture and tradition on the Indian-American author, Jhumpa Lahiri. This post is in continuation of the previous one.
Here, we will try to learn something important from her first Italian work In Altre Parole published in 2015. It was the same year when she was presented National Humanities Medal by Barack Obama.
National Humanities Medal is awarded annually to individuals or groups of America who walk an extra mile in the field of humanities.
In 2014, this award was presented to M.H. Abrams, author of the famous academic work Glossary of Literary Terms. This is a must-have book for every literature student irrespective of whether or not he is preparing for the examination.
Many questions had put forth straightforwardly from this particular book. If you have not placed it on your bookshelf yet then it’s the right time to do so. Check it out here.
First Non-Fiction by Jhumpa Lahiri
So Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Altre Parole was translated into English under the title In Other Words. The work is also known as her first non-fiction debut which explores her intense passion for Italian.
Her love for Italian kindled during her college to Florence, Italy. The same city from where Renaissance began during the 14th century. After six years, she travelled to Venice. Barely able to converse in Italian, Jhumpa Lahiri’s desire to learn the language heightened.
By and by, after hiring a few tutors, she grasped a smattering of Italian. In 2012, her fascination for Italy made her move to Rome with her family.
Teach Yourself Italian
Years ago, Jhumpa Lahiri published an essay titled “Teach Yourself Italian” in The New Yorker. This essay too was written in Italian and later translated into English. You can read it here. It’s a good read if you want to have an inside view of the mind of a diasporic writer who does not have any language, even calls her mother tongue, a foreign language.
Her experience with Italian was not less than an adventure. On reading more about her obsession with the other words, I found that her interest was shaped by the Roman poet Ovid. She talked about Ovid’s Metamorphosis influence in the same essay.
Her fondness for the new language can be found in these words:
“Whenever I can… I immerse myself in Italian. I enter another land, unexplored, murky… Although I’m still in America, I already feel elsewhere. Reading, I feel like a guest, happy but disoriented. Reading, I no longer feel at home” – Jhumpa Lahiri
In Altre Parole (In Other Words)
So you can perceive this book as an expanded version of the above-mentioned essay “Teach Yourself Italian.” The author takes the reader to her experiences of Italy and her new taste for Italian.
She resembles the character Moushumi of her novel The Namesake who can speak English and Bengali and later takes a course to learn French. Jhumpa Lahiri too found her interest in Italian while she was twenty-five years old college student, working on her PhD on seventeenth-century English writers.
She was curious to know what made the English writers set Rome or Italy against the backdrop of their works. Who knew that she too would become one of them and renounce English for Italian!
The character “Moushumi” of The Namesake can be an enquiry of research to understand the psychology of the writer. You may think of applying Psychoanalytic theory and write a research paper on the same. I’m not sure if it works. It’s a random idea that just has passed my mind.
Another day I was reading a research paper where the researcher has tried to find the link between the Oedipus complex and the characters of The Namesake.
Though I don’t like writing research papers, I enjoy reading such articles and papers where you see random ideas placed before you. Samuel Johnson’s statement for Metaphysical poets can be applied aptly to such content, “Heterogeneous ideas yoked by violence together.”
The book, In Other Words, received a mixed response from the readers and critics. As it was her first book in Italian, the words are repeated throughout the book.
The English version is slow yet compelling for the readers interested in a similar journey of learning a new language. Amazon displays a 4.5/5 rating, signifying fair interest among Indian readers.
This was her first non-fiction work, so we can say it to be more like an experiment. Her second Italian work, Whereabouts, engrossed more audience. After writing non-fiction, she seems to get back on her genius of creative writing.
Before Whereabouts, her last fiction work was The Lowland, longlisted for Man Booker 2013. It took Jhumpa Lahiri nearly a decade to write her next fiction.
Have you read her works? Which book or short story do you like the most? Let me know in the comments below.