Immigrant Life: Jhumpa Lahiri

Immigrant life is a subject that’s recently becoming more popular. Yet Jhumpa Lahiri has been writing about Bengali immigrants in America since 1999. While that is probably really affirming for real Bengali immigrants it is also wonderful for all immigrants. I relate to her stories so strongly.

While I was only about 18 months when we moved to America from Israel, I am very much still an Other (more on that later). Her writing is so relatable. It is engaging even though it can delve into really sad realities.

jhumpa lahiri immigrant life

Oh, Jhumpa Lahiri. I was first introduced to the fantastic author in a graduate class I really didn’t enjoy, to be honest. We read short stories which were interesting, but the teacher was a bit weird. Purely subjective opinion, obviously.

My professor (whose real name is very Peter Pan-y) always gave me a quizzical look when I would provide my opinion and would move on to the next student hastily. She also ignored the fact that I had surgery during the semester and was suffering. She didn’t accept that I couldn’t complete some of the work in time. Moving on!

A benefit from that class? Jhumpa Lahiri. I had seen The Namesake during undergrad on a whim because I was getting 6 discs from Netflix and made the most of them. I LOVED it. Years later I read Unaccustomed Earth and my heart broke. I immediately borrowed The Namesake from the library, enjoyed it so much more than the film, and am pretty disappointed with that interpretation (read my complete review here.)

International Women's Month Jhumpa Lahiri

This year, 2016, Lahiri released a new and different book, In Other Words. This time, she wrote in Italian about her journey to master Italian. It’s not my favorite. It’s repetitive and boring. It lacks the finesse her storytelling in English has and the rich content. I did not continue reading.

This is a harsh review because of course writing in a new language will not flow as well, but the content was also really all about her learning this language without tangents or anything else that drew me in.

I did pick out a few quotes that spoke to me, from what I did read.

From page 19 about LANGUAGE

In a sense I’m used to a kind of linguistic exile. My mother tongue, Bengali, is foreign in America. When you live in a country where your own language is considered foreign, you can feel a continuous sense of estrangement. You speak a secret, unknown language, lacking any correspondence to the environment. An absence that creates a distance within you.

Even though I came here when I was tiny, I still find holes in my vocabulary in both languages (Hebrew and English). Sometimes there are terms that just can’t be translated and that can make you feel really odd. Google Translate is awesome, but doesn’t always get the nuances.

Often, my sentence structure itself is different. I notice this sometimes when I’m talking to friends online like Margaux and Rosa who also have English as their second language. Sometimes our sentence structure is off because we are literally translating from our first language.

English is also a ridiculous language. Please explain the relationship between to be, am, was, were, is. How is the conjugation even normal?

From Page 41 about READING

After I finish a book I return to the text and diligently check the words. I sit on the sofa, with the book, the notebook, sme dictionaries, a pen strewn around me. This task of mine, which is both obsessive and relaxing, takes time.

I don’t write the definitions in the margin. I make a list in the notebook. at first, the definitions were in English. Now they’re in Italian. That way I create a kind of personal dictionary, a private vocabulary that traces the route of my reading. Occasionally I page through the notebook and review the words.

I do a similar review of my reading. As I mention in my Rainbow Rowell post, and as you can see here, I mostly read on Shabbat. So I keep post-it notes on passages I want to look up, reread later, save, or just enjoy. I type them all up into a google doc later and then sometimes share them here on CR when I remember to. :)

From Page 42 about LIFE

I believe that what can change our life is always outside of us.

Hm. I guess this is true. We have to be willing to make changes and do things that are outside our comfort zones. What do you think?

Have You Read Anything by Jhumpa Lahiri?

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Books by Jhumpa Lahiri:

interpreter of maladies  The Namesake Book Cover Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies
Next on my reading list!

The Namesake
A winner! Please read this and discuss it with me.

unaccustomed earth  jhumpa lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth
My first experience with Ms. Lahiri. Emotional, engaging, and expertly written!

The Lowland
Also, on my TBR list!

jhumpa lahiri immigrant life

In Other Words
I passed, as you can see, above. Try it and let me know what you think.