Jhumpa Lahiri’s work in Italian is reminiscent of liturgy books with Koine Greek on the left side and English on the other. That she includes the “little brother,” a moniker she’s given Italian, in her 2015 book—and on the left side—is a reversal of the norm.
It doesn’t take much formal study to read a novel in another language, if you don’t mind being unable to understand the occasional sentence or paragraph. It depends more on guessing and sympathy with a particular language or culture than it does on a knowledge of grammar or vocabulary.
In Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories, immigrants live in a world defined by language, its possibilities, its dead-ends. The legal and political aspects of immigration don’t appear to be the biggest cause of trouble for the characters. Language, however, that first branch of culture, is another matter: characters must continuously code-switch,