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Dreaming in Hindi: Life in Translation [Paperback]

Katherine Russell Rich
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Aug 2010
'I took up with Hindi at a time when it seemed my life had buckled out from under me - I no longer had the language to describe my own life. So I decided I'd borrow someone else's'. Having survived a serious illness and now at an impasse in her career, Rich spontaneously accepts a freelance assignment to go to India, where she finds herself utterly overwhelmed by the place and the language. Before she knows it she is on her way to Udaipur, a city in Rajasthan, to live with a local family and join a special language school offering 'total immersion'. What follows is a year of linguistic adventure and cultural surprises in which Rich gradually sheds her foreignness, to discover a new country and a new way of communicating. Fascinated by the process, she seeks out linguistic experts around world to understand what goes in the brain as we pick up a new vocabulary. Both a clever, lucid and funny memoir, and a unique investigation into the science of language acquisition, "Dreaming in Hindi" offers an engrossing account of what learning a new language can teach us about distant worlds and, ultimately, ourselves.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (5 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846272610
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846272615
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.4 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 458,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'A riveting memoir - the book illuminates the truth that when we learn a language, we learn an entire culture. One of the best foreign observers of contemporary India, Rich's gaze is witty, empathetic, and intimate.' Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City 'A work that will inevitably be compared to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love [ - ] it traces the far-flung adventures of a thoughtful, soul-searching single woman from New York - In addition to reporting on life in India, Rich interviews linguists and other experts about just what happens inside your head when you learn another language. The transformation Rich undertakes isn't just spiritual or metaphorical but neurological.' New York Times 'A natural journalist, [Rich] gracefully sprinkles reportage about neuroscience and linguistics, as well as her own poignant insights, into her narrative.' Elle 'Fortified with neuroscience and laced with humour, [this] is a crash course in emotional agility, in an understanding too deep for words.' O, The Oprah Magazine

About the Author

KATHERINE RUSSELL RICH is the author of the award-winning memoir The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer and Back. She has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Salon, and O, the Oprah Magazine. She teaches writing in Cambridge, Massachusetts. http://www.katherinerussellrich.com/

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A dream of a book 21 Sep 2010
If you think that you are going to get your standard yawn-a-rama wishy-washy finding-yourself-in-the-filth-of-India travelogue here, you're going to be sadly disappointed but, if you've got an iota of sense, you'll end up being delighted.

This is the story of an American woman's trip to Rajasthan to try and crack the code that is Hindi. Along the way we get an insight into the India that hippy-dippy travellers would not see (probably because they wouldn't want to) and more importantly see how the Indian middle-class operates.

However, most interesting is Rich's other journey into Hindi which she supplements with fascinating asides into second language acquisition studies all backed up with interviews with psychologists and the latest research. I appreciate that some people would find this dull if they had expected to read a standard travel book (but, really, does the world need another one of them about India??), more fool them not least because the blurb does not even advertise the book as such. Also, speaking as someone with a psychological background I can also tell you that she does all this extremely well too.

If you have ever tussled with learning a second/third/ etc etc language then you will sympathise with Rich and will also probably learn a lot about why you have struggled with your conjugations and where you stick your past participles.

This is an excellent book, very original, well written and you'll actually learn something.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but structural concerns 24 April 2011
By S
As someone with an interest in foreign languages, I found this book particularly fascinating, and I wouldn't hesitate to reccomend it to others.

However, as other reviewers have mentioned, it does seem that Rich has amalgamated several (my count was three) books into one; a travel diary, a journal describing the experience of learning Hindi and a book on second language aquisition and psycholinguistics. This gives the book a somewhat odd structure, and it occasionally "jumps" from one aspect to another.

However, with patience and persistence, it is a very good read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing 14 Mar 2011
By Jane
Like another reviewer I have an interest in language, I love India and I particularly seek out writing that is well researched, shying away from superficial accounts of quick or passing-through trips. This book, therefore, should have been perfect for me. But it wasn't. I haven't even finished it.

My first impression was of a loud grating American accent. I chastised myself as racist and I persevered but I wasn't rewarded. The biggest disappointment was that Rajasthan didn't come alive. To me, good travel writing takes you on a journey - you enjoy the gift of a vivid picture of the place in your head, and of the characters and even of the smells. This book didn't take me there.

I was also niggled by the frequent asides seemingly to deliver lectures on the science of language acquisition. Although they should have been fascinating, and at times were quite interesting, they were rather ineptly woven into the story. It was as if every so often the writer thought, 'I'm a journalist, maybe it is time I write a piece for the New Yorker or Scientific American.'

Finally I found Rich's use of "irreal" words just plain annoying. When Rich could choose from the heady selection of vocab in Hindi, Sanskirt and English why do that? Or perhaps she could learn from a guru like Kipling who cleverly drops Hindi words into his fine stories without interrupting the flow of his prose. His vignettes aren't laboured, like some of Rich's, which was a pity, I felt.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Dream of an Experience 20 Aug 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When American writer and journalist Katherine Russell Rich found herself at a turning point in her life she didn't go down the route recommended by many women's magazines by getting a hair-cut, going on a diet or finding a pretty young boyfriend to make her feel better. Instead, she did what I would do in her shoes and hopped on a plane to India to spend a year there. She was divorced, her career had stalled, and she'd already lived fifteen years with a diagnosis of terminal breast cancer which had been supposed to see her off thirteen years earlier. She really did have the total freedom to just go off and do what she wanted. On the cover of her book she tells us "I took up Hindi at a time when it seemed my life had buckled out from under me - I no longer had the language to describe my own life, so I decided I'd borrow someone else's". `Dreaming in Hindi' is the story of what happened during her year of language immersion in India.

As a divorced woman in her late forties, Katherine was almost invisible in her home country but as an American-born mature student studying in India she found herself regularly stared at and a source of fascination to those around her. As her language develops she starts to enjoy the shocked looks of locals awestruck by this white woman trying to speak their language. It must have been like seeing a cat bark or a dog miaow.

After an induction period in Delhi, she and half a dozen other students are sent to the beautiful Rajastani city of Udaipur for their year of study. She soon learns that it's a strange choice of location because the locals don't actually speak Hindi as their first language. She was billeted in a home with a large Jain family who do their best to encourage her Hindi, despite all speaking fluent English.
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