Category Archives: jhumpa lahiri

Ties by Domenico Starnone

Title: Ties
Author: Domenico Starnone
Translated by: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453855
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

To learn a language and not do anything about it is what regular folk do. It just sits in their memory and without any practice or anyone to speak with fades from there as well. That is how language works – more so when a new language is learned. But to actually do something the skills acquired with a lot of struggle, pain and heartache is perhaps what people like Jhumpa Lahiri do when they learn a new language. In her case, Italian and the translated work (by her) was Ties by Domenico Starnone.

I was anticipating this one for a while. I think it was more because I knew it was translated by Lahiri and I have loved almost all her books in the past, but as I read the book, I was taken in by the plot and I understood why I was waiting for it after all. “Ties” is a story of a marriage and also I would like to think of objects and empty spaces that surround us, where words get lost, and communication is dead between spouses. Also, might I add that “Ties” is not just another marriage story – there is a lot more to it which seethes under the surface as beautifully imagined by Starnone.

“Ties” is also beyond just the marriage of Vanda and Aldo. It is also about the other relationships that come with the terrain of marriage and how all of them get impacted when a marriage goes awry. The brokenness, the visible fault lines and sometimes not so visible ones, the routine and the mundane that act as barriers to them fulfilling their vows and above all no compatibility makes this book a rollercoaster of emotions read. To me, the book also symbolized time – the years of a marriage, the so-called affiliation between a couple, the ups and downs as they happen and above all the empathy for each other, which somehow is so fragile that it can break any time.

Domenico’s writing is sparse. I love how he doesn’t waste words when it comes to describing a situation, detail or emotion. I don’t know how the book reads in Italian but the translation seems just in place – just what is needed for this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, though initially it was a breeze to get into, later as the layers got added and it became a little more complex, it was tough but eventually it picked pace again.

“Ties” is the kind of book which has multiple facets to it – the ones that will make you see how sometimes marriages work and sometimes they do not – it is all around you for you to observe and make your deductions. At the same time, it is the kind of read that sticks – Starnone delves deep into the minds and hearts of common people and brings out every side to them through his characters. Lahiri’s translation hits home with the details, nuances and dialogue which is pitched perfectly for readers in English. “Ties” is the kind of a book which of course can be read for a weekend, but will stay for way longer than that.

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The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

the-clothing-of-books-by-jhumpa-lahiri Title: The Clothing of Books
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House India
ISBN: 978-0670089741
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books
Pages: 80
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The Clothing of Books originally started off as a talk that Jhumpa Lahiri gave in Italian. It is now translated from Italian to English and is 80 pages long. The book is about book covers and what they mean to the reader, the writer and the relationship it shares and holds between the two. I was expecting a longer read (though I knew it was a short one but not this short) and that disappointed me a bit.

Having said that, Lahiri’s book is definitely not irrelevant to any reader. If anything, it will make you think about the cover as more than just an accessory to a book and what it means to you at a personal level as well. Lahiri touches on the history of book jackets (very briefly) and lets us know how they have now become just marketing vehicles that carry a lot of blurbs and nothing else. She also speaks of her book covers and how important it is for a writer to have his or her opinion about their book covers.

She further goes on to talk about how we judge books by their covers (literally so) and lends it to the metaphor of identity as she was growing-up (different in a foreign land). She doesn’t waste her words when it comes to explaining the concept of covers and how they have come to be – the dust jacket, the naked book (my favourite piece in the entire book) and the visual language it communicates through.

“The Clothing of Books” is an intimate essay of an author and book covers. It is about the experience it carries with itself. It is also about what covers do to books (playing a major role sometimes in the success of a book as well), the personal stories they carry and how art and reading intersect at a certain subliminal level.

In other words by Jhumpa Lahiri

In Other Title: In Other Words
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Translated by: Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670088898
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Learning a new language is not easy. At least in my experience it hasn’t been easy. I tried and struggled with French and could only get this far. After that, either I gave up on the language or the language gave up on me (I don’t even think that’s possible though). I wish I had continued with it for a while and mastered it perhaps. However, that was not meant to be.

Language is a tricky thing to learn. Some say there is a certain age to it. Some say you have to speak it with someone who is fluent, every single day and immerse yourself in it. Jhumpa Lahiri’s new book “In Other Words” is all about how she learned Italian because she wanted to, moved to Rome to learn it more and finally wrote a book in Italian (the translated version by Ann Goldstein is what I have read).

This book to me was more about life than language. It was about a writer’s struggle to not only conquer the language but also at a deeper level come to terms with identity, cultural and emotional barriers and what makes a person complete.

“In other words” is more than just a memoir even – it is going to the depths of what a writer thinks, imagines, and struggles with, dreams about and how it all comes together when she writes. The writing is simple and even though it is translated from Italian, it doesn’t lose its essence. That to me is the indication of some spectacular writing right there – when it doesn’t take away anything from the original in the translated form.

The book is meticulously crafted – giving the readers a view to the writer’s innermost fears, the insecurity of writing in another language and to reveal her new linguistic identity, so to speak. Her stay in Rome was almost a self-exile as she traded her English for Italian – almost a new life. As readers, what comes to us most of the time is the dulled down version, without any of the writer’s angst, however this is not that version. It is raw and stark and right there – demanding your time and attention.

The book is about a writer’s journey and what comes along the way – sometimes even in the name of experimentation and what shape it takes at the end of it all. Jhumpa Lahiri’s struggle with the language and the need to overcome it are so strong that you find yourself almost cheering for her, knowing that she managed to write the book in Italian after all.

“In Other Words” is the kind of book that will also make you question your own creative beliefs and think of the roads not taken. Jhumpa Lahiri’s graceful writing – in its most simple form will evoke a lot of emotions inside the reader – fear, love, frustration, anger, the desire to accomplish something, to push your boundaries and to perhaps experience something new and different in what you do.

Definitely a book not to be missed out on this February.

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In Other Words