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the Complete Review
the complete review - translation

Translating Myself and Others

Jhumpa Lahiri

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To purchase Translating Myself and Others

Title: Translating Myself and Others
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2022
Length: 181 pages
Availability: Translating Myself and Others - US
Translating Myself and Others - UK
Translating Myself and Others - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Princeton University Press

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good, personal collection of pieces about engaging with language and texts

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 15/7/2022 C. Bell-Davies
The NY Times Book Rev. . 12/6/2022 Benjamin Moser
Publishers Weekly A 9/3/2022 .
The Spectator . 17/9/2022 Frank Wynne
TLS . 12/8/2022 Polly Barton
World Lit. Today . 9-10/2022 Lopamudra Basu

  From the Reviews:
  • "It offers a rare glimpse at a translator letting off creative steam between periods of close attention to someone else’s words, and it serves as a rebuke to those who consider translation an uncreative activity. (...) While these vivid descriptions bring translation to life, elsewhere her essays “on translating others” can be complex or baffling." - Camilla Bell-Davies, Financial Times

  • "In Translating Myself and Others, the Indian American writer Jhumpa Lahiri traces a journey away from the automatisms of English. (...) With the fervor of a true language person, Lahiri dives into the dictionaries. She savors unexpected etymologies. She offers lists of near-synonyms. (...) Above all, she makes herself at home in the unhomey -- unheimlich, eerie, uncanny -- borderlands between languages. (...) (S)he does not dwell on what one might call the postcolonial or political aspects of her own biography. Neither is she encumbered by the pieties that often surround writing on translation." - Benjamin Moser, The New Yrok Times Book Review

  • "Lucid and provocative, this is full of rewarding surprises." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The essays here follow her linguistic journey and, if this is their strength, it is sometimes a weakness. (...) Although the three forewords for her translations of Starnone’s novels contain glittering splinters of insight, shorn of their vital role as prefaces they feel a little insubstantial in this context. By contrast, the essay ‘(Extra)ordinary Translation: On Gramsci’ teems with thoughts and ideas about one of Italy’s foremost linguists that are never fully explored (.....) This book is a welcome addition to a growing number of works that strive to elucidate translation " - Frank Wynne, The Spectator

  • "Lahiri’s new book, Translating Myself and Others, brings together a number of essays previously published in either Italian or English, including her forewords to the three novels by Domenico Starnone that she has translated, and in some ways it celebrates her completion of the conceptual circle she began when she set out to learn Italian." - Polly Barton, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The current collection of ten essays is a lyrical meditation on translation and a manifesto establishing translation as an artistic pursuit as creative and authentic as writing in the original language." - Lopamudra Basu, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Translating Myself and Others collects, in chronological order, Jhumpa Lahiri's "written thoughts about translation over the past seven years", ten pieces written between 2015 to 2021, along with an Introduction and an Afterword first published here. It is very much a collection between languages -- Italian and English, in particular --, not least in that three of the ten pieces were originally written in Italian, and the others: "were drafted in a hybrid of English and Italian before I converted them fully into English in their final form". A nice touch, too, is the inclusion in an Appendix of 'Two Essays in Italian': the Italian original of 'Calvino Abroad', and a translation (by Domenico Starnone) of Where I Find Myself.
       As she describes in her Introduction and elsewhere, Lahiri came to Italian as an adult, immersing herself fully in it -- not least with extended stays in Italy itself -- and she has now not only translated works from the Italian but also written books, both fiction and non, in that language.
       Born to Bengali parents, she grew up bilingual -- though, interestingly, she acknowledges: "Bengali is a language I speak and understand but do not read with sophistication or ease" -- and studied Latin and Ancient Greek in college, so she was often confronted with the issue of translation; as she makes clear: "I have assembled this book not only because I have become a translator in the past seven years, but to reiterate that I have always been a translator".
       Three of the pieces were first published with her translations of novels by Domenico Starnone (Ties, Trick, and Trust) -- as introductions and an afterword -, as Lahiri acknowledges that:

It is my engagement with Starnone's texts over the past six years that has rendered me, definitively, a translator, and this novel activity in my creative life has rendered clear the inherent instability not only of language but of life
       In 'Containers', the Introduction to Ties, she tries to convey what is so appealing and interesting about his prose, noting that fellow translator Michael Moore: "believes that Starnone [...] is one of the few contemporary Italian authors today who writes an uncontaminated Italian", while she suggests: "His style is protean". While familiarity with Starnone's works, or Lahiri's translations, is obviously helpful, this trio of pieces can still be appreciated without it. Among other things, she conveys well -- here as elsewhere -- how translation can not be definitive -- there is no single right answer or version, as she notes, for example, in 'Juxtaposition', that: "My version of Trick, the first in English, is just one of many that might have been". (The suggestion -- that hers is (just) the first, i.e. that more could well follow -- is a nice touch, too.)
       While her focus in these pieces is on her Italian experience, she does also move beyond that. In 'In Praise of Echo' and in 'An Ode to the Mighty Optative' Lahiri goes back to the classics, specifically Ovid, Aristotle, and Horace, dusting off her college Latin and Greek, and Ovid features prominently in the Afterword as well.
       Throughout, the personal aspect of her engagement is at the fore -- most obviously in her discussion of 'Where I Find Myself' (subtitled: 'On Self-Translation') and her pieces on her Starnone-translations, but also, for example, in the longest piece in the collection, which: "grew out of remarks originally prepared in Italian for a panel to celebrate the definitive edition of Lettere del carcere [Letters from prison] by Antonio Gramsci".
       The insights she offers sometimes nicely blend the personal with the more general, as when she writes about (self-)translating her novel Dove mi trovo (published in English then as Whereabouts) in 'Where I Find Myself':
     As someone who dislikes looking back at her work, and prefers not to reread it if at all possible, I was not an ideal candidate to translate Dove mi trovo, given that translation is the most intense form of reading and rereading there is. I have never reread one of my books as many times as Dove mi trovo. The experience would have been deadening had it been one of my English books. But working with Italian, even a book that I have myself composed slips surprisingly easily in and out of my hands. This is because the language resides both within me and beyond my grasp. The author who wrote Dove mi trovo is and is not the author who translated them. This split consciousness is, if nothing else, a bracing experience.
       Translating Myself and Others is a nicely varied collection of pieces reflecting on translation, through a very personal lens. Lahiri notes about Gramsci: "Translation was a reality, aspiration, discipline, anchor, and metaphor" for him, and her reflections reveal how similarly significant, in so many different ways, it is to her as well. Her pieces show how translation is, indeed: "the most intense form of reading and rereading there is" -- and what is found and gained by that deep engagement with text and with language.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 May 2022

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Translating Myself and Others: Reviews: Books by Domenico Starnone translated by Jhumpa Lahiri: Other books by Jhumpa Lahiri under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jhumpa Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

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© 2022 the complete review

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