at first i thought, can’t you stay put in English and skip the melodrama?
after years of study, the shift came organically, when she sought a change for her writing. of course she never suspected it would take this form. who would? why would a novelist famous for her work in English switch to a faded, minor Romance language?
for the liberation, kids. her lack of expertise is freeing, like shifting from fine, tight brushstrokes to finger painting.
“For practically my whole life, English has represented a consuming struggle, a wrenching conflict, a continuous sense of failure that is the source of almost all my anxiety.”
i love the “almost” qualifier. by contrast, no one expects her to be an expert in Italian. she (probably) won’t win Italian literary prizes.
to most of us, it sounds like a loss, which Lahiri recognizes, describing her writing in Italian as covering her, and within it she is “renewed, trapped, relieved, uncomfortable.”
i’m not completely sold. her all-Italian-all-the-time imperative is another form of escape. Lahiri admits this, but it still looks partly like a silly, navel-gazing exercise. after a lot of staring at the wall above my desk, i’ve squeezed universal merit from the essay: we get change, which we don’t see coming, in a different form than we’d like. but it can be freeing, in unexpected ways. in Lahiri’s words,
“…the mechanism of metamorphosis is the only element in life that never changes. The journey of every individual, every country, every historical epoch—of the entire universe and all it contains—is nothing but a series of changes, at times subtle, at times deep, without which we would stand still. The moments of transition, in which something changes, constitute the backbone of all of us. Whether they are a salvation or a loss, they are moments that we tend to remember. They give a structure to our existence. Almost all the rest is oblivion.”
P.S. by the time you read this, i’ll be in NJ! amazing, right? i’ll be checking in periodically while i’m away.