In Other Words

  • by Jhumpa Lahiri, Ann Goldstein - translator
  • Narrated by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • 6 hrs and 53 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winner, a powerful nonfiction debut - an "honest, engaging, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words" (Kirkus Reviews).
In Other Words is a revelation. It is at heart a love story - of a long and sometimes difficult courtship and a passion that verges on obsession: that of a writer for another language. For Jhumpa Lahiri, that love was for Italian, which first captivated and capsized her during a trip to Florence after college. Although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterward, true mastery always eluded her.
Seeking full immersion, she decides to move to Rome with her family for "a trial by fire, a sort of baptism" into a new language and world. There, she begins to read and to write - initially in her journal - solely in Italian. In Other Words, an autobiographical work written in Italian, investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice.
Presented in a dual-language format, this is a wholly original book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with an intensity and clarity not seen since Vladimir Nabokov: a startling act of self-reflection and a provocative exploration of belonging and reinvention.
Read by the author in both English and the original Italian.

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What the Critics Say

"In this slim, lyrical nonfiction debut, Pulitzer-winner Lahiri traces the progress of her love affair with the Italian language. 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, her first order of business is to tell her own story. She writes exquisitely about her experiences with language.... Her unexpected metamorphosis provides a captivating and insightful lesson in the power of language to transform." (Publishers Weekly)
"Affecting, engaging.... In a perfectly titled memoir, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist chronicles her efforts to learn and write Italian. Lahiri, who wrote her text in Italian, presents an English translation (by Ann Goldstein) with Italian and English on facing pages. For Lahiri, Italian was her third language - her mother spoke Bengali - and she relates the reasons she felt drawn to Italian, her many difficulties learning it, and her move to Rome to write.... Although there are paragraphs about vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, Lahiri is more interested in the effects of all of this on her writing and on her identity. Her memoir is also chockablock with memorable comments about writing and language. 'Why do I write?' she asks. 'To investigate the mystery of existence. To get closer to everything that is outside of me.' An honest, self-deprecating, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words." (Kirkus )

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Beautiful meditation on language and art

As a journalist who has studied a foreign language, lived abroad, and spent considerable time in Italy, I enjoyed Jhumpa Lahiri's exploration of the themes of exile and finding a new voice in her writing through another language (in her case, a third). This slim volume, translated from her new-found Italian to English, her language of core competency, reflects the often staccato style of a foreign speaker, which felt repetitive at first. That's forgivable, because Lahiri makes you co-pilot on her journey to navigate her way through this new, more romantic language, one that makes her feel more at home and creative, but one in which, to her own admission, she still struggles. What I missed from this book was more of her story (she moves her family to a new country and rarely discusses those struggles or sacrifices). I also craved more details of her new surroundings, the gorgeous city of Rome, which she leaves mostly to the reader's imagination. This book, which seems to be part journal, is almost more of a lengthy essay fit for a literary magazine than a book-length memoir. I was shocked when, three hours into my listening, the book ended. For the remaining three and a half hours, she reads the same book in Italian (a beautiful Italian, but still Italian)!
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- A. Potter

For me, 1 problem with the book, and 1 1/2 problems with the audio version

I love Rome, the Italian language, and accounts of personal journeys, and I am happy for Ms. Lahiri's great success. But while I found her very personal reasons for this undertaking--her initial great success in English, her primary language--interesting, I thought that expecting this book to be of wider interest was a lot to ask. (Also, I found her ongoing gripes about people's surprise at what language she was speaking and how well she was speaking it to be tedious and self-absorbed, but maybe that's just me… ) And having her Italian translated back into English by someone else was just weird.

Her section on Daphne and Apollo and metamorphosis was brilliant, though. Stunning really.

Regarding the audio version, while the narrator's Italian was excellent, I found her reading voice to be a bit difficult to listen to, a little monotonous and strained. But my biggest quibble is with the audio book's form, though there was probably no other solution: having the first half of the book be in English, and the second half of the book be in Italian. In the print copy, I believe, the Italian and English versions are on facing pages, separated paragraph by paragraph so the reader can compare them. That is not possible with the audio version.

Still, I am glad the audio version exists, and I wish the gifted writer continued great success. But I found this particular book to o be something of a disappointment.
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- RdRydngHd

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-09-2016
  • Publisher: Random House Audio