'There was a woman, a translator, who wanted to be another person': Jhumpa Lahiri and the exchange politics of linguistic exile

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This paper offers an ethnographic consideration of Jhumpa Lahiri’s mother tongue, Bengali, and adopted language, English, as un-utterable, unbearable linguistic burdens that mark her migrant lifeworlds, and that define her compulsion to turn to a third one, Italian, in order to survive as a writer. While such a reading can be extrapolated into broader generalizations about lost homes, migration, and memory, the essay itself traces a closer parallel to my own worldly peregrinations, with Lahiri’s work as my constant companion and reference point for thought in the past 20 years. In doing so, I also attempt an utterly dissatisfactory map of home- and place-making that understands ‘the need to be detached not only from one’s past but, to a certain degree, from one’s present’ (Lahiri 2014, n.p.); that grapples with the migrant’s inability to belong, while refusing to let go of the worlds that reside in our ‘own’ words.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTranslating Worlds:
Subtitle of host publicationMigration, Memory, and Culture
EditorsRadstone Susannah, Wilson Rita
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780429024955
ISBN (Print)9780367111250
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameCreative, Social and Transnational Perspectives on Translation


  • Bengali; language; identity; writing; affect; translation; monolingualism; immigrant; memory; culture; home; exile

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