Are you looking for another reason to learn Italian? Check the experience of these two famous writers.
There’s more than a reason to learn Italian. You might want to read Italian literature, to watch Italian movies, to read recepies or to understand lyrics in operas. It’s also the most similar to Latin than any other romance language as French, Spanish and Portuguese. Moreover about 60 % of English words derive from Latin. Do you need another reason?
I have recently read two books by two brilliant female writers: Ghana must go by Taiye Selasi and The Lowland by Jumpa Lahiri.
There are many similarities between these two amazing women. They both grew up on the border between of two cultures. They both write about how to manage this difficult balance.
And they have another thing in common: they both speak Italian.
What’s their reason to learn Italian?
Jumpa Lahiri was born in UK in a family of Indian immigrants. When she was two years old her family moved to United States. She grew up in Rhode Island, but her family stuck to its Indian roots.
Selasi also was born in London from a Nigerian mother and Ghanese father and grew up in Boston.
She invented the word Afropolitan to indicate the highly educated, highly skilled, multilingual new generation of people born in Africa and grown up in Europe or born in Europe by an African family.
I tried to find clues on why they both decided to learn Italian.
Jumpa Lahiri, who lives now in Rome, has recently published her first book in Italian, In altre parole (in other words) in which she reveals her reason to learn Italian: she passionately loves this language. In an interview to the Italian magazine D she explained she has always been divided between the Bengali spoken at home and the English of her everyday life in U.S. She said:
Italian, learned for fun, has solved the conflict between the two cultures creating a triangle. A more solid geometric shape, isn’t it?
I was impressed by the easiness Tayie Selasi spoke Italian in the TV show Masterpiece, a strange experiment intended to conjugate literature and TV. She was one of the judges of this sort of Masterchef. Competitors were challenged in writing texts and the winner had his book published.
She arrived in Rome by chance: she was in the middle of a writer block, being not able to finish her novel and decided to leave New York. At first she wanted to go to Paris, than a friend found her an apartment in Rome. In this interview she says:
you can go to the famous monuments of Rome, you can go to the Pantheon or the Coliseum and you can simply be overwhelmed by the sheer force, I mean, the sheer and utter physical beauty that has gone into the conception and the execution of these things. But you can also go to a chiesa and find these works of art and there can be frescoes on the ceiling and tiles on the floor that suggest to you that imbedded and embodied in this way beauty is important, and that in what you do—in my case writing fiction and stories and poems and taking photographs—that this is not sort of a frivolous, indulgent or immaterial pastime that one does alongside the more serious things that grown-up life has to offer. There’s something about being surrounded by such beauty that encourages you in your pursuit of beautiful things.
I have to say that in other articles I read from them, they show to be aware of the contradictions of the country, so I believe they do not have just an edulcorate and touristic view of Italy.
Nevertheless I find interesting that they both were attracted by Italy and Italian language.
Being surrounded by history and art, speaking a language so close to Latin, may have something to do of being aware of the origins, of the roots. This is a thing that seems to be important both to Selasi and Lahiri. It’s something that Italians are not completely aware of. I find that using our past to re-shape the international role of Italy in a more modern way, could be the lesson we should learn from these artists’ experience.
Tayie Selasi Photo By firstname.lastname@example.org (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons