If I were to rate this book, I would give it two stars. As far as the writing goes, it’s more or less fine. It’s amatuerish because of the nature of the project. Jhumpa Lahiri is writing in Italian, a language she’s learned late in life and exploring as a kind of project, and this is the translation of a speech given at a conference.
It reads like someone giving a speech in a language that they learned late in life. It’s limited in its complexity, which is perhaps masked as sparseness or spareness, but I am not fooled. I think instead it is clearly an overly simple piece of writing that is limited by its author’s ability to write clearly in a chosen language.
It has all the issues that anyone who learns but does not master language might have. Non-complex thinking, simplistic sentences, and what feels like an incomplete set of thoughts. The central metaphor of the book cover being a set of clothing for the book is fine, but I would consider it a little sophomoric if one of my students wrote it.
All of that is to say that given that she likely got paid for this and someone else didn’t get paid for something they could have written instead, it’s frustrating. This is a class project; it’s a blog post.
I am also quite annoyed because I really do like Lahiri, and have liked all her books. But also, how do you write in Italian, write up about book jackets, and be an American who translates Italian, and complete ignore the conversations that occurred around the Elena Ferrante covers when they first started appearing in America. It’s such an obvious, and therefore glaring miscalculation. If this were a grad student making this mistake, they would have to go back and provide this context.
(Photo: Dan Callister)