Jhumpa Lahiri. Capri, Italy. June 2013. Photograph by Steve Bisgrove/Writer Pictures
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
Conrad did it. Nabokov did it. As have, more recently, Milan Kundera, Andreï Makine, Agota Kristof, Jonathan Littell. Now the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri has turned her hand to writing a book in a language that is not her first: Italian.
But there’s a difference. Force of circumstance was decisive in the case of most of the previously mentioned authors; Kristof (whom Lahiri briefly discusses), for example, fled Hungary in 1956 for Switzerland when she was twenty-one. The Franco-American Littell, meanwhile, grew up in both France and the USA and is completely bilingual (he won the Goncourt prize for his novel Les Bienveillantes, The Kindly Ones, in 2006). Lahiri, on the other hand, has been conducting an extended experiment with a language she fell in love with on her first visit to Italy in the 1990s. As a consequence she decided to move to Rome with her family in 2012.