Jhumpa Lahiri: In other words, in Italy I have found myself

Jhumpa LahiriI realize that the urge to write in a new language comes from desperation. I feel the torment of Verga’s blackcap: just as she did, I want more, something I should probably not wish for. Though I think the drive to write digs deep in the roots of desperation as well as hope.

Twenty-five year-old writer Jhumpa Lahiri first heard speaking Italian during a trip to Florence, and it immediately sounded familiar. She sensed a mysterious, yet reverberating tension, when hearing people talk along the streets, in shops. She couldn’t understand a word, but her whole body resonated with that language, telling her she would have to try and lose herself in that familiar language if she ever wanted to find herself. Once back in New York she picked up private lessons, with the resilience of who knows they’re doing the right thing (note pads, dictionaries, books, notes…). Years go by, lesson after lesson, accumulating knowledge. But that’s still not enough.

My private lessons with the teacher from Venice wound up being my favorite weekly appointment. Studying with her, it became clear what the next natural step was in this odd, linguistic endeavor. I knew I had to move to Italy”.

Lahiri_In-altre-paroleOnce in her choice city, Rome, with her whole family, Jhumpa Lahiri set off on a real study path of such a complicated, yet enchanting language and its grammar. Each new word, each expression was stunning. Despite the hardships, the hurdles, it is within the Italian language that the author could grasp her own essence, her new, up-until-then unknown identity, and possibly her true one. So with painful obliviousness Jhumpa Lahiri began writing an Italian diary, in Italian, talking to herself, to be present to herself, outlining her self-image in the only way she could to be present to the world. “Writing is my way of analyzing everything, so I guess writing in Italian is simply my way of learning the language on a deeper, more stimulating level. I’ve belonged to my words ever since I was a little girl. There is no Country or culture where I belong. If it wasn’t for my written words, I wouldn’t feel present to life. What is in a word? Is it life? To me, they’re the same thing”.

In other words is the fruit of this mad love story, the collection of precious diary pages, precious in their authenticity, as if written by the hand of a child. A path towards a resilient, illuminating achievement, made of distances and separations (“If all was possible, what would be the sense, the beauty, of life?”) within the bone and marrow of a language and of yourself, to find that deep down there is no difference between what we write, what we say and who we are.

Jhumpa Lahiri is an American author of Indian origins. Among her books she has published four novels and received several awards: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, PEN/Hemingway Award, Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and Guggenheim Fellowship. The chapters of  In altre parole have appeared as articles on the Internazionale magazine.

by Francesca Scialanga

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