In Altre Parole Review

The book In Altre Parole about the author journey to master the Italian language.
My thoughts on the amazing book, In Altre Parole, written by Jhumpa Lahiri about her journey to master the Italian language.

Share This Post

In January, I finished my first Italian book; In Altre Parole. I still can’t quite believe it! In the space of a week, I read it cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed it. I guess it just goes to show that all the other dusty books on my shelf do have a chance at being read after all! And because  I enjoyed the book so much, I thought I would review it and share my thoughts with you…

A small point before we start. The book is written completely in Italian but there is an English version available too if you are interested and haven’t started learning Italian yet.

The book In Altre Parole about the author journey to master the Italian language.

What’s it about?

In Altre Parole tells the story of an American writer who finds the Italian language and her journey to fluency. The successes and failures. The ups and downs. And everything in between. It’s a really insightful and interesting look at language, culture, identity and how they can change and develop through your life.

Why I loved it?

My wife bought me this book for Christmas as I’ve been wanting to start it for ages, but I always struggle to find the time to read. However, a long weekend in a cottage in the forest for my wife’s birthday seemed like the perfect time! So, snuggled up under the duvet, I got the book out and started to read. At first I wasn’t even sure I would understand it, but before I knew it I was hooked. The first night I stayed up till 2am and couldn’t put the book down…I even reached the half way point. That doesn’t happen with me! Ever!

I have been learning Italian for a long time and I do read a fair bit, but this is the first book in Italian that I enjoyed as much as an English book. Sometimes in a second language, some of the nuances and subtleties are lost, which makes you feel like something is missing. This time, however, it was different. Even though I didn’t understand every word, I followed the flow of the story.

The chapters were all very short which is super helpful. Reading in a new language is very tiring (for me at least) and so being able to complete a whole chapter easily was great and gave me a real sense of achievement . This means it will also work well as a study tool because you can work through it chapter by chapter, slowly devouring all the knowledge it has to offer, without being too overwhelmed.

The main reason I couldn’t put the book down was because of the tone of the writing. It felt so expressive and emotive, which is something I’ve been missing in my own Italian writing. To be able to express things clearly without being clinical reminded me of how I do that in English. The beautiful metaphors the author uses to explain her feelings represent exactly how I feel about Italian and language learning. A never ending passion that I think will follow me for the rest of my life. If I can write half as well as that in my CILS (Italian C1) exam then I think I will do fine!

I also couldn’t help laughing when I got to the “Imperfetto” chapter. Talking about her confusion, frustration and dedication to mastering this tricky Italian tense. Luckily, I have (mostly) overcome that hurdle myself so I can laugh about it now.

What could have been better?

I absolutely adore this book! I’m not going to lie. So, it was a little difficult to find some downsides. The one thing I can say is that it sometimes felt a little too constructed. Not quite natural. And that doesn’t have anything to do with the fact it’s not the author’s native language.

I find this a lot with English novels. They try and use some really obscure and complex constructions and vocabulary to create a vivid image. This helps to create a new world to enjoy but doesn’t always match natural expressions. Something to be aware of when you are reading this kind of novel as a learner. My Italian teacher who also has the book agrees on this one.

I guess it’s the difference between sounding like Shakespeare or a normal person on the street. While Shakespeare might be more eloquent and evoke strong emotions, the average Joe will be able to chat in the pub more comfortably. Horses for courses, as they say.

Who is it for?

This book is a must read for any Italian student. The level is relatively advanced but the content is fascinating. 

There is also an English translation (In Other Words) which is a great accompaniment for any language student or teacher. For students it will help remind you that the problems you are experiencing are universal. Everyone is struggling with the same things all over the world, no matter the language you are learning. You aren’t alone and it’s normal. Which I personally believe is a very important lesson to learn!

For any fellow teachers, it gives you a clear perspective into the mind of your students. So, we can empathise with their struggles and see it from their point of view. Sometimes its easy to forget how your student feels which can make teaching more difficult. This book really illustrates that perspective perfectly.

Final Thoughts

I can’t recommend this book highly enough and it is perfect for any language student or teacher. I can’t wait to go back to it and excavate that gold mine of knowledge to improve my Italian over the coming months.

So, what do you think…Is this something you will be adding to your Amazon wishlist? Do you have any books you can recommend that help with your language studies?

Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time!

More To Explore

Italian Teachers Answer – What is Fluency?

Buon Ferragosto a tutti! As a special Italian treat, I have an Italian special of “What is fluency?”. Where polyglots and language experts tell us about what “fluency” means to them. Check it out!