Infatuations & Longings

21 March, 2016

“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 longing in me. I don’t want to die, because my death would mean the end of my discovery of the language.”

I’ve just finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words and the above lines from the book resonates in my head.

The book reminded me of two infatuations that I live with on a daily basis. One: To read a fiction book written in French—although I can’t speak it even on an elementary level. I do get the gist of written French but for the life of me, I will not be able to translate it. Two: To force myself to think in Hindi throughout the day.

It turns out that Lahiri began to read Italian in exactly the same way I attacked reading Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir. She jots down copious amounts of notes whilst reading, to later check the meaning of unfamiliar words once she’s finished reading the book.

Sadly, I was unable to finish of Rouge et le Noir. There’s only so many ways you can manage time for that level of active reading when half of your day is spent working at a full-time job––especially when you have a pile of to be read books (in English!) that demands your attention the rest of the time.

It’s interesting to note that Lahiri writes in Italian in exactly the same manner she writes in English. The sentences are short and near staccato but with so much more depth and feeling. I want to believe that the translation to English is an accurate reflection of what she wrote in Italian.

In Other Words is a must read for anyone who loves linguistics. Though this book is a memoir, it reads almost like a love letter written to the Italian language. Or rather chapters onto which the writer has penned down her deepest longing for the language. I don’t mind if Lahiri continues to write solely in Italian from here onwards. But only if the books get translated to English.

On a more pressing note, Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir still lies on my table, waiting for me to get back to it. Lahiri’s In Other Words is like a wake-up call for me to get back to finish reading it in French (with major struggle). 

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