Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language

Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language

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by Katherine Russell Rich
     
 

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An eye-opening and courageous memoir that explores what learning a new language can teach us about distant worlds and, ultimately, ourselves.

After miraculously surviving a serious illness, Katherine Rich found herself at an impasse in her career as a magazine editor. She spontaneously accepted a freelance writing assignment to go to India, where she

Overview

An eye-opening and courageous memoir that explores what learning a new language can teach us about distant worlds and, ultimately, ourselves.

After miraculously surviving a serious illness, Katherine Rich found herself at an impasse in her career as a magazine editor. She spontaneously accepted a freelance writing assignment to go to India, where she found herself thunderstruck by the place and the language, and before she knew it she was on her way to Udaipur, a city in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, in order to learn Hindi. Rich documents her experiences—ranging from the bizarre to the frightening to the unexpectedly exhilarating—using Hindi as the lens through which she is given a new perspective not only on India, but on the radical way the country and the language itself were changing her. Fascinated by the process, she went on to interview linguistics experts around the world, reporting back from the frontlines of the science wars on what happens in the brain when we learn a new language. She brings both of these experiences together seamlessly in Dreaming in Hindi, a remarkably unique and thoughtful account of self-discovery.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Dreaming in Hindi is the verbally and emotionally dazzling story of Rich's passage to India, where she tried to master an intricate foreign tongue—and became fluent in the language of human possibility." —O, The Oprah Magazine, "Ten Terrific Reads of 2009"

"Riveting and sharply observed." —Wall Street Journal

"A work that will inevitably be compared to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love . . . [Dreaming in Hindi] traces the far-flung adventures of a thoughtful, soul-searching, single woman from New York." —New York Times

"Rich is a charming raconteur." —San Francisco Chronicle

"In her deftly written memoir, Dreaming in Hindi, Rich makes us wish we too could come alive in a foreign world, fearless of mistakes, misperceptions and mishaps, and enlivened by the unfamiliar . . . a natural journalist, [she] gracefully sprinkles reportage about neuroscience and linguistics, as well as her own poignant insights, into her narrative." —Elle

"[A] wonderful memoir . . . Fluidly interspersed within [Rich’s] witty, tongue-in-cheek account of the nutty fellow students and nosy, however well-meaning, Indian spectators are comments and elucidation on second-language acquisition from experts, and observations while visiting a school for the deaf . . . In her deft and spirited prose [Rich] depicts being literally 'possessed by words.'" —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Rich has a witty, conversational, intimate voice that draws the reader into experiences that sometimes seem surreal, sometimes all too real. The science is fascinating." —Portsmouth Herald

"Lovely." —Houston Chronicle

"Piquant, frank, and penetrating, Rich’s intricate memoir is as beguiling as language itself." —Booklist

"A charming intellectual travelogue, partly about the culture and history of India, partly about the nature of language and language learning, and also, as usual for great travel writing, very much about its author. 'I ski Hindi,' [Rich writes and] elsewhere in the book, she skis psycholinguistics, in long, gleeful conversations in university laboratories . . . and just about every other language-related discipline gets at least one downhill run as well." —Mark Liberman in Language Log

"One of the best foreign observers of contemporary India, Rich's gaze on the country is witty, empathetic, and intimate." —Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City


"A hilarious and erudite book about the pratfalls involved in learning another language. Dreaming in Hindi is also a sobering examination of the violence of culture clash and an eloquent testimony to the transformative power of genuine immersion in another world." —Wendy Doniger, author of The Hindus

"Dreaming in Hindi is a funny, deeply humane journey of words that invites the reader to awaken to new sounds and sensibilities in India. What a gorgeous, intelligent book!" —Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Lark and Termite

Publishers Weekly

Rich, the author of The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer-and Back, recounts in this wonderful memoir her subsequent life's journey: immersing herself in the transformative complexities of learning Hindi. Fired from her New York City magazine job, palpating the possibility of being a full-time writer and tempted by the "foolproof out" that was traveling to India, Rich ensconced herself in a yearlong language program in Udaipur, in the northwest state of Rajasthan, where with three other students she struggled to get her brain, and tongue, around the disorienting "monsoon of words" in the total immersion program. A delicate balance of social graces determined success or failure, as the author learned painfully when she felt compelled to relocate from the home of her host family, an extended Jain clan, because of misunderstanding over her nonmarried status. Fluidly interspersed within her witty, tongue-in-cheek account of the nutty fellow students and nosy, however well-meaning, Indian spectators are comments and elucidation on second-language acquisition from experts, and observations while visiting a school for the deaf. Homesick, rattled by the violence, Rich nonetheless arrived at making jokes and actually dreaming in Hindi, and in her deft and spirited prose depicts being literally "possessed by words." (July)

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Kirkus Reviews
An adventurous writer travels to India to learn Hindi and absorb the culture through language. The challenge in learning a second language as an adult is part of the impetus for this memoir of one woman's journey of self-discovery. In fact, the linguistic investigation emerges as the central focus of her adventure and the most interesting aspect of the narrative. Journalist Rich (The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer-and Back, 2002) clearly articulates linguistic concepts, philosophies regarding language and the neurological and cognitive phenomena associated with learning a new language. These sections are far superior to the author's descriptions of the people, places and events she encountered while on her language-immersion program in Udaipur. Most of the characters enter the narrative in an amorphous, ephemeral fashion, and the dialogue and personal events are often melodramatic and tedious. Although Rich tries to imbue these day-to-day relationships with a sense of immediacy-including scenes or histories involving the threat of terrorism and violence from increasing Muslim/Hindu tensions-the autobiographical aspects of the book seem like filler. Rich ably investigates controversial topics like Noam Chomsky's nativist theories and the more recent-though equally contentious-interest in the Whorf Hypothesis, and her conversations with linguists and neuroscientists are always engaging. The details of Hindi-from odd idiomatic expressions to the way in which it seems inextricably connected to the Hindu religion and its strict social mores and taboos-are the book's strongpoint. Rich's involvement with a school for deaf boys in the region also produces some interesting anecdotes andfascinating explorations of sign language and gesture, but readers may desire more specific detail and aspects of real-world usage. An unsatisfying memoir but a provocative account of second-language acquisition. Agent: Betsy Lerner/Dunow, Carlson & Lerner
Elle
"In her deftly written memoir, DREAMING IN HINDI, Rich makes us wish we to could come alive in a foreign world, fearless of mistakes, misperceptions and mishaps, and enlivened by the unfamiliar ... a natural journalist, [Rich] gracefully sprinkles reportage about neuroscience and linguistics, as well as her own poignant insights, into her narrative."

Language Log

"…a charming intellectual travelogue, partly about the culture and history of India, partly about the nature of language and language learning, and also, as usual for great travel writing, very much about its author…. ‘I ski Hindi,’ [Rich writes and] elsewhere in the book, she skis psycholinguistics, in long, gleeful conversations in university laboratories and the pages of books and articles; and just about every other language-related discipline gets at least one downhill run as well."

— Mark Liberman

Daily Beast

"DREAMING IN HINDI: Coming Awake in Another Language…is a riveting memoir about an American woman who spends a year in Rajasthan learning Hindi. 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 on the country is witty, empathetic, and intimate."

— Suketu Mehta

The Oprah Magazine - O
"Fortified with neuroscience and laced with humor, DREAMING IN HINDI is a crash course in emotional agility, in an understanding too deep for words."
Language Log - Mark Liberman

"…a charming intellectual travelogue, partly about the culture and history of India, partly about the nature of language and language learning, and also, as usual for great travel writing, very much about its author…. ‘I ski Hindi,’ [Rich writes and] elsewhere in the book, she skis psycholinguistics, in long, gleeful conversations in university laboratories and the pages of books and articles; and just about every other language-related discipline gets at least one downhill run as well."

Daily Beast - Suketu Mehta

"DREAMING IN HINDI: Coming Awake in Another Language…is a riveting memoir about an American woman who spends a year in Rajasthan learning Hindi. 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 on the country is witty, empathetic, and intimate."

New York Times - Susan Dominus

"...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."

The Oprah Magazine O

"Fortified with neuroscience and laced with humor, DREAMING IN HINDI is a crash course in emotional agility, in an understanding too deep for words."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547336930
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
06/10/2010
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
510,164
Product dimensions:
(w) x (h) x 0.87(d)

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Meet the Author

KATHERINE RUSSELL RICH was the award-winning author of The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer—and Back. She wrote for the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Slate, and Vogue, and taught writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until her death in 2012 after a nearly quarter-century battle with breast cancer.

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Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Basil More than 1 year ago
"Dreaming in Hindi" offers the perils of learning a second language, as told by the intrepid student linguist Katherine Russell Rich. "This book, the way I'd conceived it before I left [for India], was going to be solely about the near mystical and transformative powers of language: the way that words, with only the tensile strength of breath, can tug you out of one world and land you in the center of another." Then, with this ambitious manifesto nailed down, Rich casually admits that she basically lacks foreign language skills. "I simply love the process...Me, when I travel, I just want to speak. I've always been fascinated by language in any form, the more unintelligible, the better." Well, she couldn't have picked a better subject than Hindi, the great--formidably great--language of India. Is it hard? Betcha. In New York, Rich took preparatory lessons from a "moonlighting" Columbia professor, Ms. Susham Bedi, "and the language was making my head smolder. One misplaced m, and you were no longer saying "weather" but "husband of maternal aunt." You had to learn to think in sentences whose verbs went at the end, which had the effect of producing vertigo: "to the house the mother the child is taking." Pronunciation was another horror. And writing the sentence was, well: "I couldn't write it. The beautiful letters, like stick trees that had bumped into a ceiling or a revue of performing snakes, came out like cows' heads in my hands. I was frustrated and fascinated." The learning process created psychological effects. "At night I dream in Hindi I can't understand. The language has to stay fixed, or I'll lose the nuance: Aap, not ap...I know it when they say it, then two days later, it's gone. My English sometimes now feels spotty, as if, in preserving the new words as long as possible, my brain keeps the old ones tamped down." This is a colorful, witty, eloquent, moving read by a persevering author who has a remarkable story to tell--about the words we speak.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was excited to read this book but it was so slow moving I did not even finish it.
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