IN 2012, Jhumpa Lahiri moved to Rome and began a period of self-imposed linguistic exile from English. She stopped speaking, reading, and writing the language entirely, the better to learn Italian. Total immersion in a foreign language makes sense as a means of achieving mastery, but for a writer of English literature, abandoning the language in which she has established her career and literary identity also seems an odd move. What is a writer without the language in which she writes?
This isn’t a passing fling, either. In a memoir of her Italian immersion, translated into English as “In Other Words”, Ms Lahiri notes that Italian is “the sole language in which I continue to write”. People have advised her against it, insisting that they don’t want to read her in translation and that the change could spell disaster for her career. Even Italians struggle to understand why she would want to write in a language much less widely read.
But Ms Lahiri’s move is not unprecedented; there is a tradition of writers trying to escape their language and render their art in a foreign tongue. Some do it because they are intoxicated by the possibilities offered in a new language—the words and turns of phrase for which their own language doesn’t have any equivalents, the strange new rhythms and patterns of sound.
Read the full article in The Economist