Exophonic Authors: Background information when reading Whereabouts

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Whereabouts

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri X
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Apr 2021, 176 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
Buy This Book

About this Book

Exophonic Authors

This article relates to Whereabouts

Print Review

Jhumpa Lahiri wrote her novel Whereabouts in Italian, a language she learned in adulthood, and later translated it into English. Many authors have at some time made the decision to become exophonic (to write in a language other than one's native tongue), whether for personal, artistic, practical or political reasons.

The author who is possibly best known for doing this is Irish writer Samuel Beckett, who famously adopted French in order to write "sans style" (without style). While he eventually returned to English, some of his most famous works were originally composed in French, including the play En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) and the trilogy of novels beginning with Molloy.

Hungarian writer Ágota Kristóf's short novel Le Grand Cahier (The Notebook) is sometimes recommended as an easy read for French learners, as Kristóf wrote it while still attempting to master the language herself after having fled her native country for Switzerland. Mieke Chew contrasts Kristóf with Beckett as a French language learner turned writer, remarking, "Unlike Beckett, who kept language itself at arm's length for the sake of form, she did not experiment with French out of artistic ambition, but in order to live and be understood, not playfully, but with rigor and dedication to correctness—and she did so to devastating effect."

Another exiled writer, Vladimir Nabokov, is best known for the work he produced in English after moving to the United States, including Lolita and Pale Fire. His earlier novels were written in his native Russian, and he once noted, "My private tragedy, which cannot, indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural language, my natural idiom, my rich, infinitely rich and docile Russian tongue, for a second-rate brand of English."

Exophonic Book Covers

Edwidge Danticat, Haitian American author of Breath, Eyes, Memory, Everything Inside and other works, is a contemporary exophonic writer. Though Danticat grew up with Haitian Creole as her primary language and was taught in French at school as a child, she began to compose stories in English soon after coming to the US at a young age. In an interview, Danticat explained, "I came to English at a time when I was not adept enough at French to write creatively in French and did not know how to write in Creole because it had not been taught to me in school, so my writing in English was as much an act of personal translation as it was an act of creative collaboration with the new place I was in."

In her 2017 essay "To Speak Is to Blunder," Yiyun Li — author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl; Where Reasons End; and other novels and story collections — recounts how for her the act of choosing to write in English, along with the rejection of her mother tongue, Chinese, has come with harsh and complicated implications but feels necessary. Reflecting on Nabokov's comment about giving up writing in Russian, she forms her own sentiment around his words: "If I allow myself to be honest, my private salvation, which cannot and should not be anybody's concern, is that I disowned my native language."

Lahiri's 2015 essay "Teach Yourself Italian" (itself translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein), on her journey to writing in the language, introduces some interesting parallels and contrasts to Li's experience. Lahiri's relationship to language is informed by her parents' Bengali, in which she has always lacked some degree of fluency despite it being her mother tongue, as well as English, in which she initially wrote fiction. Regarding her fledgling attempts to write in Italian, she states, "I think I am escaping both my failures with regard to English and my success. ... I'm bound to fail when I write in Italian, but, unlike my sense of failure in the past, this doesn't torment or grieve me."

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Elisabeth Cook

This article relates to Whereabouts. It first ran in the June 9, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Seek You
    Seek You
    by Kristen Radtke
    In the first pages of Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness, Kristen Radtke's sophomore ...
  • Book Jacket: The Man Who Hated Women
    The Man Who Hated Women
    by Amy Sohn
    If debates over women's reproductive health seem stuck in an earlier era — the fact that birth...
  • Book Jacket: The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
    The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
    by Honorée Fannone Jeffers
    Honorée Fannone Jeffers' The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois explores the Black experience in ...
  • Book Jacket: Beautiful World, Where Are You
    Beautiful World, Where Are You
    by Sally Rooney
    Beautiful World, Where Are You centers around four key characters, the most prominent of which are ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
In Every Mirror She's Black
by Lola Akinmade Akerstrom
An arresting debut for anyone looking for insight into what it means to be a Black woman in the world.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Chance Library
    by Freya Sampson

    Fans of libraries and heartfelt, humorous fiction won't want to miss this one!

  • Book Jacket

    The Lost Notebook of Edouard Manet
    by Maureen Gibbon

    A sensual portrait of Manet's last years, and a vibrant testament of the artistic spirit.

Win This Book!
Win A Most Clever Girl

A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton

A thrilling novel of love and espionage, based on the incredible true story of a Cold War double agent.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Run T G

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.