Dreaming in Hindi

By KATHERINE RUSSELL RICH

Katherine Russell Rich hit the skids with a bump and crash. Recovering from two bouts of cancer and getting fired from her magazine job left her with a life that, she says, “no longer made any kind of sense to me.” So the tradition of Eat Pray Love, she set herself on the path to reinvention by studying Hindi. “I no longer had the language to describe my own life. So I decided to borrow someone else’s.” Using her skills as a journalist, Russell Rich dove into researching second-language acquisition (SLA) and how it affects the brain. Living like a college student for a year in Udaipur with a local family while attending classes was at first a welcome distraction. “This book was going to be solely about the near mystical and transformative powers of language,” Russell Rich writes. She found that words have destructive powers too, “to reshape people” and leave them twisted and broken. During her sojourn, Russell Rich witnessed a teacher’s violent accident, a fellow student’s mental breakdown, and her own views of both home and host countries — and herself — tested in the wake of 9/11. Though eloquent and thorough, Russell Rich’s memoir bears a hint of apology for falling short of clearly illustrating the changes wrought by the ephemeral nature of language and communication. It’s okay, though, for as she pulls us through her year, we too are ensnared in the tendrils of speech and culture, caught up in the colorful world they define.