I’ve often been reprimanded for having a deep rooted complex arising from the sense of not belonging to a particular region and not speaking in a native way. In other words - feeling inferior about my accent. It took me a long time to make peace and be comfortable in my own shoes in foreign lands.
Jhumpa Lahiri expressed her inferiority in various metaphors spanning over two hundred pages in the book, 'In Other Words', and won the Pulitzer Prize for it.
Now, I don’t hate this book. My relation with this book is exactly how she describes it - ambivalent. I love it for the rich yet simple language, the comprehensible analogies, and the engaging chapters. I dislike it because of the constant melancholic tone of self-doubt that crawls over all the chapters and into the reader.
I learned Tamil, a local Indian language, by browsing through dictionaries, noting down words, talking to local people and conversing in broken words until I was able to sort of breeze through without being a complete outsider. I could understand Jhumpa’s struggle in learning Italian. Her love for the language resonates with mine. I could relate to the beautiful prose about identity, nativity and the struggle to fit in a place that is foreign. Wit and sharpness are indeed lost when one tries to express in a language that is different from what one thinks in. (I think in Telugu, I talk to myself in English. It's a weird combination)
But Jhumpa, clouded with analogies that describe her attempts at trying to fit in, forgot the joy in doing so.
In Other Words is an author’s relationship with a language that is entirely foreign, a struggle to embrace something that doesn’t want to belong to you. It’s a pioneering effort at which she has incredibly succeeded in putting into words the darker side of it. It’s too honest to spell joy.
But, damn it. I wish I had written this.