Jhumpa Lahiri’s new book crosses boundaries

It doesn’t matter what genre Translating Myself and Others is. What matters is that it is irresistibly immersive.

A book-sized package was waiting on my front step when I opened the door after several hours transfixed to a screen. Finding Translating Myself and Others inside, I meant to leave it on my desk while I went on my daily walk. But a sage female Janus traced on its thick woodland-green jacket, its velvety smoothness and pleasant heft, and the way the cover peeled away revealing more of the hue I call viriditas—all this kept me holding the book.

As I walked past cattails, thistles, egrets, and the liminal space where water meets the shore, Jhumpa Lahiri’s personal essays came alive with wise surprises. As I read, I reflected on my infinity of hours translating Old English, Middle English, and early modern French prose, work that Lahiri names “a metamorphosis: a radical, painful, and miraculous transformation” and “an elaborate, alchemical process that requires imagi­nation, ingenuity, and freedom.” These words moved me profoundly.

I began to wonder: What genre is this boundary-crossing book? The graceful simplicity of Lahiri’s writing—and my windblown outdoor setting—invited a nonlinear progression through the pages, with curiosity leading. No matter your direction through the book, I discovered, its themes and images cohere and sing, richly resonating within itself and beyond, with other books.