Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘In Other Words’ & A Language That Touched My Soul

Jhumpa Lahiri’s “In Other Words” is a beautiful memoir of studying the Italian language! Since I am learning Italian I could relate to many of the things she mentions in the book…

It is almost unbelievable yet true that there were parts of the book where it seemed as if she was talking about my experience of learning the language and not hers! I could feel her sense of helplessness as well as her passion. I could even feel her frustrations and achievements.

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri is an honest and lyrical confession of her journey, the ups and downs of studying Italian. There were certain passages in the book that resonated with me much more than the others. What I felt in the end was simply a yearning to visit Italy again, to hear the language, to speak it and to understand it better than before.

In Other Words this is what I felt….:

When she talks about learning the language:

“Because in the end to learn a language, to feel connected to it, to have a dialogue, however childlike however imperfect.”

When she talks about Florence:

“I love this trip. I go out of the house leaving behind the rest of my life. Each time it feels like a small flight.”

When she talks about reading in Italian:

“I find that reading in another language is more intimate, we don’t come from the same place, from the same family.”

When she gets restless while learning:

“Often, awake and restless in the middle of the night, I go to the desk to compose some paragraphs in Italian. It is absolutely a secret project.”

When she reads in Italian:

“When I read in Italian, I feel like a guest, a traveller.”

-“Maybe because in Italian I have the freedom to be imperfect”

When she compares Italian to Venice:

-“My writing in Italian is just like a bridge, something constructed, fragile. English flows under my feet”.

When she talks about publishing the book in Italian:

-“In Other Words will now have an identity independent of me. The first readers will be Italians; it will be found, first, in Italian bookstores. In time it will be translated, transformed.”

Thank you, Jhumpa Lahiri for a wonderful memoir. It made me feel so much more connected to Italy and the Italian language. I hope that one day I will pen down a book about my language learning too. Because after all Italian has left me smitten.It is a language that has touched my soul….!

Buy the book here:


84 thoughts on “Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘In Other Words’ & A Language That Touched My Soul

  1. As someone who has spent years learning Japanese and a couple of other languages, I am looking forwaed to checking out this book to see how it relates. Learning new languages for me has been a wonderful experience and journey into understanding the lives and cultures of the people who speak thise languages. Always worth the effort to learn other languages.

  2. I can’t wait to read this as well. I love her writing and now she’s doing it in Italian. I’ve been looking forward to this. Learning a language is definitely a journey and she. An captures thoughts and processes so well.

  3. I’vemade tentative steps into learning Italian also, but now I am back in the UK for a while, I am scared of losing my French, so have put Italian aside for a while….Going to check this book out though – thanks for posting xx

      1. YES, I have it – I have put it away to take to Italy with me in August…..honeymoon was wonderful – you must go to Malta (if you have not already been) I included it in not the last post – but the two previous xxx

  4. Just ordered thee book Ishita – LOVE the dual language format and I have resonance with her, as I was flung into the French language when I went to live in France six years ago, frustrating thing is I will be away when it arrives – something to look forward to when I get back – thanks again

    1. That was quick, I am glad I made it happen 😉 Yep definitely but still worth the love when Italians look at you pleased to see you are learning and trying 😀

  5. Great review! Just spent 3 months driving through France, Spain, and Italy in a motorhome.

    My Spanish and French are so, so as I understand more than I can articulate. However, I speak Italian and make myself understood about 90% of the time. Knowing the language whilst travelling in a country gives you such a rich experience, especially with such a passionate people as Italians. I love speaking Italian!

    I wish someone would invent a computer chip that pops into your head and instantly you can speak the language for which country you’re travelling. 🙂

    1. You are lucky if you speak 90%. Your jobs done then 😉 traveling in Italy gets better when you know their words, when you understand their daily life. Truly rich. Thanks for sharing 🙂 n I wish too 😉

      1. Agreed but you also need the hands/arm actions! 🙂 I’ve been to Italy 3 times now and will be there again after a 3-month volunteer stint in Thailand (leave on the 14th). Australians only get 90 days in a 180-day period in Schengen countries but this time I’m applying for EU Citizenship as I’d love to live there full time.

        I have a slight advantage, my father was Italian and my mother was Croatian, so we spoke English and Italian as children although I never studied the language (grammar). Although I hadn’t spoken Italian much for over 25 years, after being in the country for just one week, it all comes back. You lose some of the vocab and my grammar isn’t spot on but they understand me so that’s a bonus! 😉

  6. I must buy this book too. I remember my own experience learning Italian ( from 1991 through to 1995) and then later teaching Italian. And my first solo trip to stay in Siemna and attending La Scuola di Dante Alighieri for a month. All my memories of that period are still very stark and charged with fear and delight.

    1. Wow. That’s so inspiring for a newbee like me. Thanks for sharing the info. I hope someday I can speak Italian .. It seems like a long way right now!

      1. Good luck- it is a beautiful language to learn. My lecturer told me once that learning 20 new words a day helps. Also listen to Italian radio online every day, as well as reading and writing. Don’t use google translate- it isn’t helpful for learners. Paste new verb constructions on walls, toilet doors etc. Become immersed.

        1. I think that is what I am not doing 🙁 thanks for this. I really needed this. Any tips on where I should learn new words from? Should I rely on the teacher?

          1. I always kept a little handwritten ‘quaderno’ for this. My new words each day tended to be based on my interests and came from the dictionary. Consequently I never learnt the Italian words for tools or car parts….

          2. Did you buy the book Francesca? Also your tips really helped. I have kept a quaderno for my verbs. Also would love any other tips as and when you think of. I will try to read the paper bit by bit.

          3. Name things in your life. Nouns are so easy to remember. Label things in your kitchen, wardrobe, bathroom. Talk to yourself. Have Italian conversations with yourself. Listen to Italian music and sing ( download the lyrics to learn the words- this helps all children in school so it should help adults. ) Little songs like ‘Volare’ or Fra Martino ( Frere Jacjues/brother Jack). Get a Schaum text book and do a grammar exercise or two everyday. Listen to Italian broadcasts when driving.

  7. Beautiful one Ishita. Jhumpa Lahiri’s other books are good too. Its amazing how learning a language helps in rediscovering yourself 💞💞 And I am waiting for the day you pen down your thoughts in Italian

    1. Thanks Jovita. It helped me a know a side of me that I wasn’t sure I had. Me too 😀 I can’t wait. Even if I am old and wrinkly I will enjoy it 😉 Thank you for your words 🙂

  8. Reblogged this on ravenhawks' magazine and commented:
    I hope you become as fluent in the language as you wish to be. I have smattering of several languages running around in my head. I learned German while living in Germany it seems that was my fate in learning languages, I lived in the country I learned the language. My latest foray was Welsh that too is faded into memory. 🙂

  9. I didn’t know it was out already! Lovely. And I enjoyed your post a lot. I’ve never thought of learning Italian but I’m learning French and the very thought of speaking in it, sounding the way French speakers sound has me giddy with excitement.

  10. I came to know about this book through a beautiful, long article on the New Yorker, some weeks ago. I felt irritated, then involved, then captured. Now I absolutely look forward reading the book.

  11. Reblogged this on Italian in Italy's Blog and commented:
    I read an article on the New Yorker about this book some weeks ago. I look forward reading this book, her adventure is the adventure of us all – when we start our travel in a foreign language…

  12. She is such a wonderful writer. I can’t imagine publishing a book in a language other than your own! Wow! She is the cover interview for Writer’s Digest next month. I just got my copy in the mail yesterday. Can’t wait to read it.

  13. What a great review of an amazing writer! Did you also get to read “The Lowland”? It’s the only book she’s written that I’ve read so far, but after your review I definitely get to read this one as well. I’m always looking for good stories on traveling…

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 means a lot! I have read almost all her books, and love them <3 you must read! Any ones in particular that you want on traveling? I could suggest some

      1. I’m happy for any suggestions. It doesn’t need to be about traveling in particular(although it would be great), but what I’m looking for is books where the characters get in touch with people from different places and cultures. That’s why I’ve especially enjoyed “Lost in Translation” by Eva Hoffman (just to give you an example).
        I’m very grateful for the hint on this book as it includes the aspect of language learning – the connection and intimacy when doing so is really there!
        Also, your motivation for learning Italian definitely deserves a huge credit 😉

      2. Oh nice, I am going to check this book out 🙂 And thanks a lot. It helps more when you are encouraged. Meanwhile why don’t you try How to be both by Ali Smith, Il bel centro by Michelle Damiani and Port of No return by Michelle Saftich.. These were my last year’s reads on Italy 🙂

  14. Interesting, I didn’t know Jhumpa Lahiri was writing this book. I liked her last book The Lowland. That is incredibly impressive that she wrote this in Italian.

  15. Those few excerpts from the book have made me all the more eager to read the book. I’m impatient until it reaches Qatar…
    I love learning new languages as I feel that we are not just learning a new language but also connecting to their culture, traditions, people and everything…
    When I met a couple of Koreans while travelling in Salzburg and when I managed to speak to them in their language as much as I can… my happiness knew no boundaries (I learned Korean by watching the dramas and everyone in my house were fed up of my Korean fever..) I was happy that I proved that those hours wasted in front of the screen was not futile… That feeling of being able to speak (their) a language and be able to relate to them…. no words to describe them..

    Hope u can unleash ur Italian fluency in Italy soon..

    1. Thanks Simnshy for those beautiful words. Today I dreamt that I was speaking Italian in a small village in Italy and the lady was laughing at me. Imagine my language learning has taken new levels 😉 Its even coming in my dream now. Haha! But I really want that day to come just like you experienced in Salzburg. Btw how was the travel?? Hope you can read the book soon 🙂

      1. Travels are always nice for wanderlusts like us… I’m planning on my next short trip in March.. When is your next visit to Italy? Maybe v can make it together next time… 🙂

  16. Thanks for highlighting this book! I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing, especially her short stories set in Italy, which now make perfect sense. I haven’t seen any reviews for this in the UK, so wouldn’t have heard of this without your post. Now I want to buy it.

  17. Wishlisted!! As a language learner myself, I am curius to get to know this book a little better! I will buy it after the summer (I have a few books tor ead before that were just waiting for my summer vacation)!!

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