…But to be fair, a lot of this book is kind of a book about this book.
Ok, bad way to start a review. Let’s back up.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s third language is Italian, learned in adulthood, and this book was written by her in Italian, and translated by another writer into English. There are some short stories here, but most of the book is about the act of writing in another language, and the author’s relationship to Italian. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
The book is a slight 200 odd pages, all the slighter for the left page being in Italian and the right in English, so it was a quick read. It very much is in Lahiri’s voice, which oddly, I’ve always felt read like it was translated from another language. Her prose is clean in a way I’ve found other translated works to be, stripped to its essentials, so even her English language books feel elegantly detached. If anything, this is even less so than her native writing, and perhaps some of it is from the effort of writing in a non-native language.
In her own words:
“I now have quite an extensive vocabulary, but it’s an eccentric one. I feel as if I were dressed in an outlandish manner, wearing a long, elegant skirt o f another era, a T-shirt, a straw hat, and slippers. That graceless effect, those muddled tones might be the consequence of the distance, from the beginning, between me and Italian: of my having absorbed the language for years from afar, from a variety of sources, before I lived in Italy.”
I’m glad I read this, but I’m also glad I read it at the library. It’s an interesting thought experiment, but I think it warrants an exploration where the process isn’t as difficult so there’s more “there” there. I want a neurologist writing a book on translation with excerpts from this one. But this was definitely worth the read.