Suddenly none of my books is useful anymore. They seem like ordinary objects. The anchor of my creative life disappears, the stars that guided me recede. I see before me a new room, empty. Whenever I can, in my study, on the subway, in bed before going to sleep, I immerse myself in Italian. I enter another land, unexplored, murky. A kind of voluntary exile. Although I’m still in America, I already feel elsewhere. Reading, I no longer feel at home.
I read Moravia’s Gli indifferenti (Time of Indifference) and La noia (The Empty Canvas). Cesare Pavese’s La luna e i falò (The Moon and the Bonfires). The poetry of Quasimodo, of Saba. I manage to understand and at the same time I don’t understand.
Jhumpa Lahiri Q&A
As a writer, how was it to give up your main language? How did the limitations of your Italian influence your writing?
My break with English stunned me at first but it also intrigued me. I wanted to understand the impulse, the source of it. Expressing myself in Italian was, and remains, a continuous challenge. I find that my writing is more essential and that my thoughts are less inhibited.