In altre parole, de Jhumpa Lahiri
NOTA DE LEITURA
Jhumpa Lahiri nasceu em Inglaterra em 1967, filha de pais indianos, que emigraram para os Estados Unidos quando ela tinha dois anos. Em casa sempre falou bengalês e só começou a aprender Inglês quando foi para o jardim de infância. Nesta língua fez toda a sua formação e nela começou a escrever para publicar. Não foi fácil ser reconhecida como escritora até que em 2000, o seu primeiro livro (de contos) Intérprete de enfermidades (D. Quixote, 2001) lhe valeu o Prémio Pulitzer de ficção. Por essa altura, decidiu começar a estudar italiano. Essa aprendizagem e o que ela representou na vida dela são o tema principal do livrinho “In altre parole”, que saiu em Itália no início de 2015. Agora foi publicado nos USA em versão bilingue, traduzido pela já célebre Ann Goldstein, a excelente tradutora de Elena Ferrante e de outros autores italianos.
Parafraseando Fernando Pessoa que a autora conhece, pode dizer–se que a sua pátria é a língua em que escreve. De agora em diante diz ela que escreverá apenas em italiano, apesar de na sua cabeça permanecer o triângulo bengalês – inglês – italiano. Com seus pais e família próxima fala ainda bengalês. Mas agora vive em Roma.
No próprio livro, que li no original italiano, cita também Antonio Tabucchi “… avevo bisogno di una lingua che fosse un luogo di affetto e di riflessione,.- Requiem” referindo-se aqui ao Português, como é evidente.
É esta viagem para a língua italiana que a autora descreve neste livro que não é de ficção, mas sim uma memória, com dois pequenos contos, Lo scambio e Penombra.
Está muito bem escrito, embora ela possa ter recorrido a amigos para evitar alguma falha.
A autora casou em 2001 com Alberto Vourvoulias, guatemalteco-grego-americano e têm dois filhos.
Los Angeles Times
In Other Words
Jhumpa Lahiri ; Translated by Ann Goldstein
Alfred A. Knopf: 233 pp., $26.95
When Jhumpa Lahiri was 32, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her first book, "Interpreter of Maladies"; it was only the seventh time a short-story collection had been so enshrined.
"Rather precipitously, I became a famous writer," Lahiri, now 48, recalls in her new book. "I received a prize that I was sure I did not deserve, that seemed to me a mistake. Although it was an honor, I remained suspicious of it. I couldn't connect myself to that recognition, and yet it changed my life."
Lahiri set these thoughts down in Italian. She wrote "in modo piuttosto precipitoso, sono diventata una scrittrice famosa..." and then her words were put into English by Ann Goldstein, herself a headliner for translating Elena Ferrante, Primo Levi and now Lahiri.
The reader who takes up Lahiri's "In Other Words" ("In Altre Parole") holds an appealing, missal-sized text with the Italian printed on the left and its English version on the right. The paragraphs are laid out in parallel, so an Anglophone can glance left, noting structural diversions and possible linguistic overlaps. It is Lahiri's first book of nonfiction, yet it contains two short stories. In introducing one, "The Exchange," Lahiri tells us the symbolism of a missing black sweater in the story: It is language. She herself understood this months after she wrote it — the revelation arriving suddenly as she jogged through a park in Rome.
In this diverting way, a reader bobs in the wake of Lahiri's grand experiment, her decision to immerse herself in Italian as an adult, to move her family to Rome and to write her fifth book in a language she enters slowly, awkwardly, often comparing herself to a child but without a child's plasticity for acquiring language:
"I read slowly, painstakingly. With difficulty. Every page seems to have a light covering of mist. The obstacles stimulate me. Every new construction seems a marvel. Every unknown word a jewel.... I find the process more demanding yet more satisfying, almost miraculous. I can't take for granted my ability to accomplish it. I read as I did when I was a girl. Thus, as an adult, as a writer, I rediscover the pleasure of reading."
Reading "In Other Words" is deeply pleasurable. It puts one in the company of a beautiful mind engaged in a sustained and bracing discipline. Lahiri's sensibility exists in exquisite counterpoint to a culture besotted with selfies. Instead of "Eat, Pray, Love," the reader finds a book situated in Italy without a single reference to food or prayer or sex. The tone hasn't a shred of the coquettish, nor is it monastic. "In Other Words" gives off the intoxication of metamorphosis, the title of one of her 24 chapters.
Normally, Lahiri explains, she is annoyed by the journalistic boilerplate of being asked her favorite book, but during her time in Rome, begun in 2012, she was "able to respond without any hesitation" that it was Ovid's "Metamorphoses." She had read the entire poem in Latin as a young woman at Boston University, and that ecstatic experience feels like a reverb for Lahiri's midlife task.
The content of Ovid's masterpiece also fits. Like Daphne fleeing Apollo, Lahiri tries to escape the embrace of English, the demands and separations it inflicted on her girlhood. These started in a kindergarten doorway in Rhode Island, where she set aside the Bengali she spoke at home for "a culture that had to be mastered, interpreted." How shocking when the tree bark made of this second language, her second skin, transformed her into a literary celebrity, including a National Humanities Medalist, awarded by President Obama at the White House in September.
As Lahiri reports it, her escape into Italian hits a wall. Her husband, Alberto Vourvoulias, speaks the language with a Spanish accent. "For him, it's enough to extend his hand, to say, 'A pleasure, I'm Alberto.' Because of his looks, because of his name, everyone thinks he's Italian. When I do the same thing, the same people say, in English, 'Nice to meet you.'"
The writer's facility with Italian far outstrips her husband's, but her appearance reads "foreign," just as it did in Boston, where she once refused a flier, only to be cursed by a man who demanded to know if her problem was that she couldn't speak English. When she travels to Kolkata, India, despite a lifelong proficiency with Bengali, vendors address her in English.
These paradoxes vex Lahiri, but she knows they are one wellspring of her creativity. Toward the end of her latest work, she describes it as "a hesitant book and at the same time bold. A text both private and public. On the one hand it springs from my other books. The themes, ultimately, are unchanged: identity, alienation, belonging. But the wrapping, the contents, the body and soul are transfigured."
The cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker notes that "language comes so naturally to us that we're apt to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is." On every page, including the half that monolinguists can't fathom, Lahiri's magnificent book reminds us.
Long manages the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards for the Cleveland Foundation
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
‘In Other Words,’ by Jhumpa Lahiri
By Marthine Satris
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Her debut book of fiction won the Pulitzer Prize. Her next three all decorated the best-seller charts for weeks, and Hollywood even made one into a movie. So what does Jhumpa Lahiri do next? Abandons English entirely, of course.
Lahiri wrote “In Other Words,” her first book of nonfiction, in Italian after moving to Rome with her family to immerse herself fully in her chosen language for two years. But rather than offering anecdotes of expat life, the series of brief essays becomes a revelation of how a writer finds her voice, intertwined with meditations on the estrangement that her identity as the child of Indian immigrants has imposed on her relationship to English.
Lahiri begins by digging up the roots of her fascination with Italian, which started with an innocent vacation in Florence and blossomed into a full-fledged case of amore no longer satiable with language lessons and Italian dictionaries. Twenty years into this affair, Lahiri, her husband and their children set up house in Rome, where she feels a “sense of rapture, an affinity” that connects her to the language she yearns to know as deeply as possible.
Becoming a writer in Italian means returning to the role of a student, in which gains come quickly but mastery is elusive. Lahiri captures the word lover’s delight at finding a new world of language, where every new word added just whets the appetite for more. Despite every effort she makes, though, she is always reminded that she’ll never know the language like a native. Connotations fly right by her and idiomatic uses of prepositions puzzle her, but her renunciation of her prowess in English offers an opportunity for rebirth.
As she immerses herself in Italian, totally abandoning English in her reading, writing and speaking life, Lahiri discovers the power of hitting up against her own limits: “The obstacles stimulate me.” Like poets who relish the restrictions of sonnets, the constraints of her limited vocabulary and grammar force Lahiri to reinvent herself as a writer, “to subject” herself “to a metamorphosis.” Recording this process, the writer meticulously charts her second coming of age and her discovery of a new voice.
Included in the book are two new short stories in her new style. They are spare, without details of time or place. Lahiri is known for her sensitive, insider portraits of Bengali immigrants and their children in the United States in novels like “The Namesake.” Writing in Italian, the emotions of longing and estrangement that she explores are similar, but the stories Lahiri tells have shape-shifted, becoming existential parables.
In one story, a nameless woman loses her sweater, and when it is returned, doesn’t recognize it. “She felt antipathy toward it, revulsion. ‘This isn’t mine. Mine has disappeared,’” and as the story continues, the sweater becomes an object both familiar and strange. Lahiri writes in the Afterword, reflecting on her new style, “Verisimilitude was very important to me, as a writer. After writing this book I changed my mind.”
This freedom to abandon everything known and sure and to begin anew is the best writing advice out there. “From the creative point of view, there is nothing so dangerous as security,” she warns.
Lahiri’s memoir of learning Italian offers no particularly new insights into the challenges of language acquisition. However, when she writes about what it feels like to become a writer for a second time, she begins to write about finding her own self through language.
As Lahiri takes us along on her journey into Italian, we travel deeper into the writer’s own consciousness of her fraught relationships to Bengali and English, her “mother” and “stepmother” tongues, respectively. Her revelations about the emotional freight of language to the child of immigrants bring great weight to what could otherwise seem a slight book inspired by a successful writer’s whimsy.
Lahiri addresses the reader’s implicit questions: Why wouldn’t she try to write in Bengali, her first language, but one she rejected? Why isn’t English good enough for her anymore — aren’t there still plenty of English words to learn? “In Other Words” reveals the painful burden of a double alienation, from both the language of her family and the language of her education. I do wonder what her own children would have to say about being dropped into Italy, which she doesn’t address.
In just over 100 pages of English, translated by Ann Goldstein (who also translates Elena Ferrante), Lahiri spins a linguistic memoir that actually tells the story of a transformation of identity. In Lahiri’s hands, these essays and stories become an invaluable insight into the craft of writing not as storytelling but as speaking the self into existence.
Marthine Satris is an editor and a writer in Oakland whose reviews have appeared in the Rumpus and the Millions.
The New York Times
IN OTHER WORDS
By Jhumpa Lahiri
Translated by Ann Goldstein
233 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.
Nothing reminds you how far you are from home more than trying to speak in someone else’s tongue. As Jhumpa Lahiri writes in her gorgeous new memoir, “In Other Words,” a language is as vast as an ocean; the most a foreigner can ever hope to make of it is the size of a lake. She describes her written Italian as a piece of “unsalted bread,” correct but lacking the usual flavor. No student of Italian literature can hear these words and fail to think of Dante’s famous passage on his exile in “Paradiso,” where he writes that he would come to learn “how salty is the bread of others” after his expulsion from Florence. The image is both metaphorical and literal, for Florentines have made their bread without salt since the Middle Ages — the heartbreaking separation from everyone and everything he loves, Dante’s line suggests, will be so visceral he can taste it.
It is fitting that a nation with no unifying language for centuries should inspire a writer of Lahiri’s stature to organize her reflections around the concept of exile. “What does it mean,” she wonders, “to give up a palace to live practically on the street, in a shelter so fragile?” Why abandon the English language that made her famous and move with her family to Rome, as though quixotically hoping to swim across a linguistic ocean? Because she was in love:
“When you’re in love, you want to live forever. You want the emotion, the excitement you feel to last. Reading in Italian arouses a similar feeling in me. I don’t want to die, because my death would mean the end of my discovery of the language. Because every day there will be a new word to learn. Thus true love can represent eternity.”
The exuberant tone may surprise readers used to the understatement and quiet grace of Lahiri’s acclaimed novels and short stories. And rightly so, because “In Other Words” presents the same author with a different voice. The English we read is not hers, but belongs to her translator, Ann Goldstein, who has garnered well-deserved praise for her translations of Elena Ferrante’s recent Neapolitan novels. Lahiri wrote “In Other Words” in Italian, refusing — wisely, I think — to translate her own work because she wished to maintain the discipline that has enabled her to write exclusively in Italian the past few years.
As her immersion in Italian deepens, Lahiri fears losing her moorings with literary English and wonders whether her infatuation with Italian will be considered a “dead end or, at best, a ‘pleasant distraction.’?” But her move to Italy was a long time coming. The new language freed her from what she describes as the clash between the Bengali of her Indian parents and the English she learned after her family immigrated to the United States and her childhood home in Rhode Island. The more she mastered English, the further it took her from her ethnic origins — and yet she fell in love with English as she would Italian, eventually becoming a writer vaulted into instant celebrity when her first collection of stories, “Interpreter of Maladies” (1999), won the Pulitzer. With the sudden fame, Lahiri writes, came the loss of the precious gift that writing had always brought her: a sense of invisibility, inaccessibility — as Virginia Woolf might have put it, a room of her own.
Italy offered Lahiri more than solitude; it also gave her a new expressive vein. Reading Lahiri in English, the overriding sensation is one of restraint. In her most recent novel, “The Lowland” (2013), after an Indian graduate student, Subhash, loses his virginity to a woman named Holly, he opens the door of her cottage to find that “the tide was in. The sky was bright, the ocean calm.” All signs of the previous night’s storm — and the previous night’s lovemaking — have been erased, in a passage as controlled as the regulating tides.
“In Other Words” offers a necessarily messier, more open-ended register, as Lahiri gives us the most unusual of self-portraits, “written as an adult, but also, from the linguistic point of view, as a child.” It’s a bit surreal reading the Italian autobiography of an American author translated by someone else’s hand on the facing page. But the bilingual format is appropriate: All the personal experiences are connected to linguistic ones, all the linguistic issues refracted through the author’s life.
“In Other Words” ends at a crossroads, with Lahiri set to leave Rome and return to America, not knowing what will come of her affair with Italian or her marriage with English, unsure of which language she will continue to write in. “You will leave behind everything you love?/?most dearly, and this is the arrow?/?the bow of exile first lets fly” — Dante wrote these words some 700 years ago, but they seem especially relevant when speaking about “In Other Words,” a book that is everywhere about displacement and the discoveries it can lead to. Lahiri reached out to Italian when English stopped offering her the solitude she craved as a writer; now that she has left Italy we must wait to see where the arrow of exile points her.
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” Wittgenstein once wrote — reading “In Other Words,” one suspects Jhumpa Lahiri would agree.
15 febbraio 2015
In altre parole
Inserita qualche anno fa dalla rivista Forbes tra le narratrici più influenti del panorama contemporaneo, Jhumpa Lahiri è una donna sensibile, schiva, determinata. La critica ne ha premiato il talento fin dagli albori della carriera, nel 2000, assegnandole il Pulitzer per la raccolta d'esordio, L'interprete dei malanni. Dopo un romanzo lungo e complesso come La moglie, la scrittrice che ha scelto come nome d'arte il suono della pioggia (Jhumpa) e, da qualche anno, l'Italia come nuova casa, ricomincia tutto da capo: In altre parole.
In altre parole è il diario di una passione clandestina. Protagonista la lingua italiana, di cui la scrittrice è da vent'anni un'affezionata adepta e alla quale ora chiede gentilmente "permesso" per entrare (rientrare) attraverso la sua porta nel mondo della letteratura. Già pubblicati in parte su Internazionale sotto forma di conversazioni con i lettori, i frammenti che compongono questo libro sono nati direttamente in italiano. Difficile resistere a un piccolo afflato di campanilismo nel pensare a quanti pochi altri grandi scrittori abbiano preferito Roma (e la sua lingua) alle grandi capitali letterarie come Londra, Parigi, New York.
L'esilio è una condizione dolorosa ma feconda per uno scrittore, addirittura essenziale dice Lahiri, immedesimandosi nelle parole di Antonio Tabucchi che riporta in incipit: "...avevo bisogno di una lingua differente: una lingua che fosse un luogo di affetto e di riflessione". Fra gli Strumenti umani, per usare una suggestione cara a Vittorio Sereni, la lingua è quello deputato a disegnare sulla pagina l'andamento del discorso interiore. E proprio la relazione tra la scelta di una nuova lingua e la condizione di esiliata costituisce il fulcro del discorso e della poetica di Jhumpa Lahiri.
Si scrive per indagare il mistero dell'esistenza, confessa la scrittrice. Per farlo ho bisogno della libertà di sentirmi imperfetta. Tutta la mia scrittura è un omaggio all'imperfezione, al contrario la sicurezza è una pericolosa insidia alla creatività. L'italiano mi ha offerto questa libertà e insieme questa limitazione. Perché c'è una trafittura in ogni gioia... E trovo meravigliosa questa parola un po' insolita, trafittura, che Jhumpa restituisce come una specie di onomatopea per descrivere la sensazione fisica di venir ferita.
Le tre lingue che si affrontano sulla mia scrivania, continua la scrittrice - bengalese, inglese e italiano - sono oggi lo specchio della mia identità perennemente in crisi. Il tema del doppio è ricorrente in tutta l'opera di Jhumpa Lahiri. Anche nell'ultimo romanzo, La moglie, protagonisti erano due fratelli così diversi - introverso e riflessivo il primo, idealista, passionale, assoluto l'altro - da incarnare le due metà di una stessa persona. Due metà destinate a rimanere tali. Ora scrivere in italiano è come un ponte: il diario sofferto di una nuova nascita.
Metamorfosi di una donna, metamorfosi di una scrittrice, metamorfosi di uno stile. Ispirata da Ovidio, il mentore che nel mito di Apollo e Dafne rilesse poeticamente questo processo insieme violento e rigenerativo, Lahiri interpreta la metamorfosi come un cammino esistenziale di morte/rinascita. In questa fase di transizione è come se la sua prosa elegante e accuratissima, così ricca di immagini simboliche ed evocative, all'incontro con l'italiano si fosse sfrondata d'ogni impurità mettendosi completamente a nudo, e rivelando una insondabile profondità di pensiero.
Traversata, colpo di fulmine, esilio, conversazioni, rinuncia, scambio, riparo fragile, sondare, impalcatura, imperfetto, triangolo. Fin dalla scelta delle parole per i titoli dei brani, la scrittrice rivela una fascinazione per le sonorità musicali della lingua italiana e per la sua ricchezza semantica, per i termini con una pluralità di significati. Ma l'attrazione si estende anche ai suoi interpreti, Moravia, Pavese, Manganelli, Natalia Ginzburg, di fronte ai quali rileggendosi trova la sua prosa simile a un pane sciapo: "funziona, ma di solito il sapore non c'è".
Mi pare invece, specie leggendo Penombra - il bellissimo racconto di chiusura - che Jhumpa Lahiri abbia inaugurato una nuova stagione narrativa modellando le nuove parole nella materia di cui sono fatti i sogni. Con la loro penombra. Con le loro lucide verità.
Gustavo Vargas Cohen, Da Intérprete de Enfermidades às Terras Não Familiares: A Ficção de Jhumpa Lahiri, in Lumen et Virtus: revista de cultura e imagem, v. 1, p. 81-92, 2010, in https://www.academia.edu/428202/DA_INT%C3%89RPRETE_DE_ENFERMIDADES_%C3%80S_TERRAS_N%C3%83O_FAMILIARES_A_FIC%C3%87%C3%83O_DE_JHUMPA_LAHIRI