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Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language [Hardcover]

Katherine Russell Rich
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) (7 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618155457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618155453
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.9 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,588,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

KATHERINE RUSSELL RICH is the author of the award-winning memoir The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer and Back, and she has written for New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Salon.com, and National Public Radio.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars extemely disappointing 19 Jun 2010
Format:Hardcover
As a female TEFL teacher who has visited India several times this book seemed like it had all the ingredients for an great read, but it was somewhat tedious, badly written and the characters were unlikeable. The author states that when learning a 2nd language the 1st one suffers - well, this book proves it
Avoid this book - go for 'Holy Cow' or 'Eat,Pray, Love' instead
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deserves a reading 2 Mar 2010
Format:Hardcover
Don't be put off by the title if you have no interest in learning Hindi. Katherine Rich has created a fascinating account of what happens when we learn a new language. Interwoven with a year spent in India on a cultural exchange programme as a mature student, it is part travelogue, part cultural guide, and part an investigation into the neuroscience of language learning. Enjoyable and insightful.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  88 reviews
54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy book to categorize 10 July 2009
By Holly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book was really three books in one from my perspective:

1) exploration of the mental process of learning language (both first and second) -- very scientific

2) study of the culture of India with some background history

3) the author's personal journey into learning Hindi and what it was like for an American to move to India and live there for one year.

The word that comes to mind when I reflect on the book is "dense". It's jam packed with information and research - much more than I was expecting. It really delves into how the human brain processes language, new experiences and cultures. Many linguists are interviewed after the author's return to the States and their explanations of language aquisition are included. The culture of India (at least her exposure to it) is a wonderful facet of the book and incredibly educational. The reader also goes along on her personal journey as she tries to fit into a different culture - with some successes and some failures plus she chronicals the other Americans she is with and shares their stories as well.

The book also requires work to read (I got out the old yellow highlighter and carried it around with book) since it moves back and forth chronologically as well as moving between themes. It's a very fluid book that isn't "structured" -- actually fits the subject well and reflects the stops and starts experienced by someone out of their comfort zone.

Overall, a truly enjoyable book. It is definitely not for someone who is looking for a fast, light, easy memoir which many are. It takes some study and time to get through. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in India or language acquisition. The reader must be committed to putting forth effort to enjoy and get something out of it.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read if you like India and languages 22 Aug 2009
By BookLover - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Positive & interesting:

1) Facts and theories about learning languages.

2) Descriptions of life in India.

3) Story of author's struggles learning Hindi.

4) Great book title!

5) Interesting info on the deaf and sign language learning in India.

Problems:

1) No index. A book with this much research should include an index. For example, there are lots of theories and tidbits about language learning with no way to easily find them again after you have finished the book.

2) No footnotes. A book with this much research should include footnotes so readers can find sources for further reading.

3) Unhelpful chapter titles. They don't describe the contents of chapters and thus aren't helpful for finding topics.

4) Seeming lack of chronological order because the story in everyday language is interrupted so often by academic discussions.

5) Too many long and boring passages.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy book to categorize 13 Mar 2012
By Holly - Published on Amazon.com
This book was really three books in one from my perspective:

1) exploration of the mental process of learning language (both first and second) -- very scientific

2) study of the culture of India with some background history

3) the author's personal journey into learning Hindi and what it was like for an American to move to India and live there for one year.

The word that comes to mind when I reflect on the book is "dense". It's jam packed with information and research - much more than I was expecting. It really delves into how the human brain processes language, new experiences and cultures. Many linguists are interviewed after the author's return to the States and their explanations of language aquisition are included. The culture of India (at least her exposure to it) is a wonderful facet of the book and incredibly educational. The reader also goes along on her personal journey as she tries to fit into a different culture - with some successes and some failures plus she chronicals the other Americans she is with and shares their stories as well.

The book also requires work to read (I got out the old yellow highlighter and carried it around with book) since it moves back and forth chronologically as well as moving between themes. It's a very fluid book that isn't "structured" -- actually fits the subject well and reflects the stops and starts experienced by someone out of their comfort zone.

Overall, a truly enjoyable book. It is definitely not for someone who is looking for a fast, light, easy memoir which many are. It takes some study and time to get through. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in India or language acquisition. The reader must be committed to putting forth effort to enjoy and get something out of it.
37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A modern American's "Passage to India" 12 Jun 2009
By amazonbuyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As I read this book, I felt I was in a dream world. The story line floats from theme to theme without any obvious or concrete connection and yet I was drawn in.

It was like the compulsion one feels when upon waking from an intense and seemingly vivid dream: desperately trying to understand what it meant, trying to hang on to each intangible and ephemeral piece. If you can make sense of it before it disappears, you can hold on to the dream. If you don't analyze the dream, it vanishes and two minutes later you can barely remember the dream, much less what it meant.

Even the real-life characters of the book are portrayed in a dream-like quality. They float in and out of the author's narrative. Their flaws are exposed, but softened by the dream-like world in which they exist.

Only when the author moves to the analysis of the experiences does the narrative leave the dream world. These sections are clear, academic, and enlightening. The analyses are scattered incongruously throughout the book and yet add to it's weight and somehow hold it together. Above all they help the linguistically unschooled (me) to grasp and make sense of the dream world.

The whole time I was reading "Dreaming in Hindi", I was trying to understand "where is the author going with this?" and "what is the purpose of this section?". But most of all I was trying to understand why I didn't "get" so much of the story.

As I headed toward the end I started to understand and things started to come together. I remembered that another book had put my head in the same place: E. M. Forster's "Passage to India".

"Dreaming in Hindi" has helped me to better understand Forster's book. Without using the construct of language, Forster was trying to put the Eastern mind into Western mind. What happens in this procedure is reminiscent of the surgery where the doctor switches brains. It doesn't necessarily follow the expected path.

Rich's use of linguistics as the vehicle to translate Indian culture & language for the "Western Hard-Wired Mind" is brilliant. Even though I am not a linguist and have never traveled to India, it worked for me. In a sense, "Dreaming in Hindi" woke me up mentally, while gently transporting me through the dream world of another language and culture.

Rich not only immerses herself in Hindi, but also becomes involved with an Indian school for the deaf. This involvement leads her on what seems to be an after-thought or side quest: to discover if the sign language of the Hindi deaf was evolving. But for me, this side quest became the exclamation point of the book and pulled everything together.

There is definitely something beautifully humorous and profound in learning a language within a language and finding out that it was not the real language. Instead, the language that you had learned was a rough estimate of something far more complex and powerful. To understand this, make sure you read the epilogue.

This book is a must read for all linguistic students and those who endeavor to become bilingual. I also think it should be required reading for students who will be traveling abroad. For those of us who are not, it is a as close as we will ever get to doing so.

I did not give "Dreaming in Hindi" 5 stars because it targets a very specific audience and requires a willingness on the part of the reader to trust that the author is taking them somewhere even when they feel totally lost and are trying to make sense of it all. With this book, I was never sure of where I was going or where I would land. Some folks don't like going on that kind of journey, in fact they resist it.

For me a five star book reaches a larger audience and does not require that kind of commitment from the reader. But if you revel in "blind" journeys, you will absolutely love this book.

If you are the kind of person who wakes up from the dream and could care less what it meant, maybe this is not the dream for you.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars When writing memoirs is your occupation, how do you manufacture an interesting experience? Go to India on a lark of course! 19 Nov 2009
By Paul Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I first heard of Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich in a New York Times profile article. In this article, Rich describes how hard it is to get Indian Americans to speak to her in Hindi (Answer: most are not proficient in Hindi, only Bollywood Hindustani). I was intrigued with the article and looked up the book. It was just the sort of book I would love to read. I constantly dream of taking up another language (Spanish) but never quite get around to it. Here was a memoir of someone who does and so I bought the book. Unfortunately I didn't like Dreaming in Hindi. It was rather tiresome and poorly written. In retrospect I should have known. After all there was no review of Dreaming in Hindi in the New York Time Book Review. That should have been a red flag right there.

Strangely in a book about Hindi and language (which I assume is the major focus of the book), there is very little discussion of Hindi itself. She tells us occasionally that Hindi is a very beautiful language, but then never really relates how it is beautiful. There is very little discussion of how Hindi personally relates to her. At the end of the book one wonders what the language really did for her. In some sense, the language allowed her to talk to people she might not have talked to otherwise. Then again she seemed to hate everyone she talked to who wasn't already fluent in English to begin with. So what did it get her? For that matter why even choose Hindi at all. Rich is awfully vague about it in the first few chapters. What was her connection to the language? Or even to India. Her only answer for her expedition to India is that it would be a lark (What a lark, what a plunge). This seems rather unbelievable.

Another component of the book was to look at second language acquisition and what it does to our brains. These sections are somewhat interesting but I think poorly written. For one thing she writes so poorly of her experiences of learning Hindi that all of the scientific discussions seem almost like disjointed asides and become uninteresting.

While the language section of the book was an abysmal failure, the actual experience of India part is more interesting. Rich gives us an interesting cast of acquaintances she makes in Udaipur. She has fascinating classmates: there is the adventurous Helaena (Rich kind of likes), the shadowy Whisperer (Rich hates), and the enigmatic Harold (Rich hates). Then there is her host family, a Jain family whom she looks down on. And then there are tons of other people that just show up when they need to. No context is provided for many of them (who they are, how they met). After a while one gets confused about who they all are. It's poorly written but interesting none the less. However if one wants to read about the topic of the Westerner's experience of India, it is perhaps better to look elsewhere. I recommend Ruth Prawer Jhabvala or Rumer Godden's Kingfishers Catch Fire, the latter especially. Although Rich lives in India for several months she remains a constant tourist. She does the usual Rajasthani camel treks and goes on shopping excursions to Jaipur. Then occasionally she exclaims how beautiful India is just to note she didn't totally hate the experience. Interestingly and tellingly, she usually says India is beautiful only when there are no Indians present.

All together I thought the book was inferior, and was a waste of time. The language part didn't come off and the experience of India parts are all tired clichés. If you've read any book about westerners in India, you've read all of this before. What is worse is that the author seems hidden in some sense, which is an odd choice for a memoir. We never really get a sense of who she is before or after the experience. Basic questions like the one I posed earlier are left missing. Why Hindi? Why not French? Or Italian? Rich explains that she wanted a language very different from English. But Hindi is related to English in some way (so what if the verb comes at the end. It does that in German too I think). Why not pick something more unrelated. Why not Japanese? Japanese is completely unrelated to English. I have been pondering this. My guess -and it's a cynical guess- is that living in Europe or Japan may have been too expensive for her (Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame who made a similar language learning expedition to Italy had a large advance from her publisher). Other countries such as ones in the middle east or Africa may have been too unsafe. I think India might have been the only choice. India is relatively safe for westerners and it is really cheap place to travel in. Bingo and you pick Hindi!

Just as baffling is the writing itself. Rich is an editor. Why is the book so poorly written, so disjointed? Surely an editor knows how to write clearly. My guess is that the book was probably rushed to publication to cash in and hoodwink the Eat, Pray, Love crowd.
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