After having read Whereabouts, Jhumpa Lahiri’s translation of her own Italian language novel, Dove Mi Trovo, I remember wandering through cities in parts of the world where my first language was not the common language. Lahiri’s unnamed first-person narrator wanders through an Italian-speaking city. This character is unlike Samuel Beckett’s unnamed (and Unnameable) first-person character in his originally French, autotranslated writings, usually describing scenes in an isolated countryside. The comparisons are limited. However, in both cases, the authors appear to use their access to a less primary language to explore how language shapes our world, how mental maps–like narratives–are very much specific to the languages in which they are conceived.
“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 both is and is not the author who translated them. This split consciousness is, if nothing else, a bracing experience.”
This excerpt is from Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Where I Find Myself” about translating her own Dove mi trovo into English.