Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language

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The late poet and memoirist Czeslaw Milosz wrote, “I am enchanted. This book is graceful and profound.”

Since its publication in 1989, many other readers across the world have been enchanted by Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language, a classic of exile as well as immigrant literature, as well as a girl’s coming-of-age memoir. Lost in Translation moves from Hoffman's childhood in Cracow, Poland to her adolescence in Vancouver, British ...
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The late poet and memoirist Czeslaw Milosz wrote, “I am enchanted. This book is graceful and profound.”

Since its publication in 1989, many other readers across the world have been enchanted by Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language, a classic of exile as well as immigrant literature, as well as a girl’s coming-of-age memoir. Lost in Translation moves from Hoffman's childhood in Cracow, Poland to her adolescence in Vancouver, British Columbia to her university years in Texas and Massachusetts to New York City, where she becomes a writer and an editor at the New York Times Book Review. Its multi-layered narrative encompasses many themes: the defining power of language; the costs and benefits of changing cultures, the construction of personal identity, and the profound consequences, for a generation of post-war Jews like Hoffman, of Nazism and Communism.

Lost in Translation is, as Publisher's Weekly wrote, “a penetrating, lyrical memoir that casts a wide net,” challenges its reader to reconsider their own language, autobiography, cultures, and childhoods.

Hoffman’s subsequent books of literary non-fiction include Exit into History, Shtetl, After Such Knowledge, Time and two novels, The Secret and Appassionata.

Lost in Translation is one of a series of memoirs by women from Central Europe published by Plunkett Lake Press as eBooks that includes Heda Margolius Kovaly’s Under A Cruel Star and Helen Epstein’s Where She Came From: A Daughter’s Search for her Mother’s History.

This remarkable book is Eva Hoffman's personal story of her experiences as an emigre who loses and remakes her identity in a new land and translates her sense of self into a new culture and a different language.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Daughter of Holocaust survivors, the author, a New York Times Book Review editor, lost her sense of place and belonging when she emigrated with her family from Poland to Vancouver in 1959 at the age of 13. Although she works within a familiar genre here, Hoffman's is a penetrating, lyrical memoir that casts a wide net as it joins vivid anecdotes and vigorous philosophical insights on Old World Cracow and Ivy League America; Polish anti-Semitism; the degradations suffered by immigrants; Hoffman's cultural nostalgia, self-analysis and intellectual passion; and the atrophy of her Polish from disuse and her own disabling inarticulateness in English as a newcomer. Linguistic dispossession, she explains, ``is close to the dispossession of one's self.'' As Hoffman savors the cadences and nuances of her adopted language, she remains ever conscious of assimilation's perils: ``But how does one bend toward another culture without falling over, how does one strike an elastic balance between rigidity and self-effacement?'' (Jan.)
Library Journal
Born in Poland shortly after World War II, Hoffman emigrated to Canada with her parents in 1959. Gifted both as a writer and a musician, Hoffman succeeded enough in her ``second'' culture to win scholarships to Rice and Harvard and to become a published author in her adopted language and a New York Times editor. But, as this perceptive and moving memoir demonstrates, no matter how successful the adaptation to a new culture, the immigrant experiences loss as well as gain. Hoffman makes one feel intensely the pain of an abrupt rupture with one's culture and native language, as well as the difficulties of adjusting to a new idiom. Recommended for public and college libraries. Ann. H. Sullivan, Tompkins Cortland Community Coll . , Dryden, N.Y.
John Leonard
"As a childhood memoir, Lost in Translation has the colors and nuance of Nabokov's Speak, Memory. As an account of a young mind wandering into great books, it recalls Sartre's Words. … As an anthropology of Eastern European émigré life, American academe and the Upper West Side of Manhattan, it's every bit as deep and wicked as anything by Cynthia Ozick. … A brilliant, polyphonic book that is itself an act of faith, a Bach Fugue."
Jonathan Yardley
"Handsomely written and judiciously reflective, it is testimony to the human capacity not merely to adapt but to reinvent: to find new lives for ourselves without forfeiting the dignity and meaning of our old ones."
Pater Conrad
"Nothing, after all, has been lost; poetry this time has been made in and by translation."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140127737
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/1990
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 277,031
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.79 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Eva Hoffman grew up in Cracow, Poland, where she studied piano at the Cracow School of Music, before emigrating in her teens to Canada and then the United States.

After receiving her Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard University, she worked as senior editor at the New York Times, serving for a while as one of its main literary critics. She has taught literature and creative writing at various universities, and has written and lectured internationally on issues of exile, memory, Polish-Jewish history, politics and culture.

Her books include Lost in Translation, After Such Knowledge and Time, as well as two novels, The Secret, and Appassionata. She has presented radio programmes and curated a series on "Writing and Music" at the South Bank Centre in London. She is the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Kosciuszko Foundation award for Shtetl, and the Prix Italia for radio. She now lives in London.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2002

    The Stars are for her Grasp of the English Language, but she's no Nabokov

    I read Lost in Translation for a class on exile writers at Smith College. As a comparative literature major, I was accustomed to reading a great variety of texts that ranged from fantastic works of art to writing that seemed laden with opium. Lost in Translation is one of the most obnoxiously self-indulgent books I have ever read. Although she uses language well, her mastery of metphor and subtlety cannot excuse her self-aggrandizement. I am sure there were other intelligent individuals in the Poland of her childhood.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 26, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    ¿Lost in Translation¿ a memoir about the life of Eva Hoffman and

    “Lost in Translation” a memoir about the life of Eva Hoffman and her experiences dealing with coming of age and migrated to a new world at the same time. As the protagonist of the story, she guides on her adventure through learning about the English language from a Polish perspective and lets the reader in on her insight. Not only does she manage to point out the differences between the two cultures, but the conflict within herself to choose whether to accept or reject it. 
    After the end of World War II Eva and her family finds themselves packing their bags to venture from Poland to Canada. As the reader, it becomes obvious that Eva will have major struggles in adjusting to the new culture, for a variety of different reasons. She distances herself form others in a way to not allow her to fully engage in the English language, as she often uses Polish in the text to describe some of her emotional feelings towards her new life. One particular word that shows up several times in the text is Tesknota that Hoffman uses to describe deep sensations. Hoffman illustrates this by “Tesknota throws a film over everything around me, and directs my vision inward” (115). In this instance, Hoffman is using the word to describe a sensation of isolation, by which she feels lost in Vancouver. However, on a greater scale I think she uses this word to help her illustrate her longing form home. After several years, she finds herself applying for college to American schools and quickly begins to realize how important English will be in order for her to be successful at a university. Towards the end of the novel, she is able to find within herself why English is so important and why it is necessary in order to unveil her true self. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2014

    Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman is a novel recounting Eva¿s l

    Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman is a novel recounting Eva’s life from her struggling childhood years to her mature years as an adult. Part 1, Paradise, starts out in Eva’s younger years in Poland. The setting is post World War 2 as Eva and her family struggle from the terrible infliction of the war. Even though times are tough in this point of the novel overall life is joyful for Eva and her family. Part 2, Exile, describes Eva and her family’s journey to this new world, “North America” more specifically Canada.  During this time, we see a young foreign girl and her family in a sate of bafflement and confusion as they learn to adjust to their new surroundings, language, and backgrounds. Also it illustrates to the reader the many struggles that immigrants encounter when they aren’t prepared for a new world that is much more different from their home. Eva takes on the tasks of conquering this new language and background despite still being hurt from the exile of her homeland. Furthermore the family must also take into account where they live, job situations, and the way people interact with them as a whole. Part 3, The New World, starts out with Eva receiving a scholarship to rice university. At this time in the novel Eva and her family seem to be well adjusted to America and now seem fit to call it their home. It is here where Eva comes more Americanized and seizes to stop this mind war so to speak that has been going on with her polish roots and her new American lifestyle. In this last section of the novel Eva goes through new but exciting experiences that allows her to get a grasp an idea of what she wants to accomplish in the future; including not only her goals and aspirations but also her love and plans for her family. 

    I really enjoyed this novel because I have family members who were immigrants and this novel put me in perspective of what they must of went through in their journeys to America.  I recommend to those readers who enjoy books that have to do with this so-called idea of the American Dream. I believe that this novel brings many topics referring to immigration and readers who enjoy this particular topic should read Lost in Translation.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2014

    The life changing narrative ¿Lost in Translation¿ by Eva Hoffman

    The life changing narrative “Lost in Translation” by Eva Hoffman is an emotionally impactful story. Eva Hoffman describes the personal story of when her family and her packed up and moved from Poland to Vancouver Canada after WWII. As a young girl the move was extremely frustrating and difficult for Eva because everything she loved and knew was left in Poland. The narrative describes not only Eva’s struggles in the New World, but how foreigners face the new challenges of everyday life. Out of the four family members Eva takes the move the hardest. She is constantly in longing for home including its memories and relationships. As Eva ages she begins to Americanize and adapt to the American way of life. Her feelings of Poland never subside but she accepts that America is now her home. After returning to Poland Eva realizes that her only connection is her childhood and that will always be a part of her. Eva returns to America where she currently lives today as a famous writer.
    The Narrative is very informative of the hardships foreigners experience when leaving their home countries to start a new life. The experiences help the reader see America through someone else’s eyes and gain a better understanding of what it offers both good and bad. The aspect that helped draw me closest to the story is how Eva expressed herself in very personal ways. This helped bring credibility to the story and also helped build a connection between the reader and Eva. A good way she helps add credibility is by adding Polish words throughout her narrative. Eva does this because she uses these words to show her connection to her Polish roots. It also helps display an even closer personal reference of her emotions and memories. An example of this is when the word Tesknota appears in the story. The Foreign word was used to describe Eva’s longing for home in a more powerful way than English words can describe.
    This story can be recommended to a variety of people with different intentions of what to take from the story. For those who have a feeling of sorrow due to challenges in life you may be able to connect. Eva describes her mixed emotions and frustrations from the challenges of a new life style. From maturing she actually benefited from her situation that was so challenging for her earlier in her life. These methods of handling the struggles are presented and could possibly be helpful to some readers. For others who are just looking for a good read I absolutely recommend this narrative. It is easy to read and Eva’s story is powerful and will keep you reading on to find out what happened next in her fascinating life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2014

    This book was extremely well written however I did not enjoy it.

    This book was extremely well written however I did not enjoy it. This was due in part to the fact that it was mandated I read it for class but it was more due to the fact that it did not entertain me. It had no build up and no climax it was simply a recounting of events. This is the nature of some non-fiction autobiographies and the reading experience is extremely dull. This is why i enjoy fiction novels much more and also why I would not recommend this book to someone who plans to read it for enjoyment or entertainment.  Written by Zach Bucklin

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2013

    I didn't finish the book

    because the Ebook site is malfunctioning

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2008

    As good a literature as it get

    12 year after firts reading it, this book still resonates as an extraordinary work of life-story-telling.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2008

    A must-read and a classic

    This is an engrossing, beautifully written book, sensitive, insightful, moving, brilliant but not in a self-conscious manner. Personal memoirs are all the rage now. This book, which has become a classic of its kind, predates the advent of bestselling confessionals and is more analytical, less sentimental than many more recent titles. It reads like a novel while allowing the reader to explore the meaning of memory and history, the role of language in growing up and forging an identity, and much more. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2007

    Completely unoriginal

    This book is an unfortunate addition to a already vast and rather tedious genre of literature. Eva Hoffman's language is not enough to justify writing a book that has been written countless times with different names and titles. Her insights are few and far between and even then, not exceptional. Most of them have already been written down much more eloquently. Don't read this, there are better books out there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2005

    A bit rambling...

    Eva Hoffman is not a great writer. At times she uses over fancy language and too many metaphors to make sense of the internal struggle she is going through to learn a new language and adapt to a new world. However, if you are a Jew and are trying to get 'back in touch with your roots' and understand what it means to be a Jew and what is was like growing up in Poland before emmigrating to the US, you will enjoy bits and pieces of this book. At times the book got so tedious, I skimmed, which is something I hate to do but I just had to.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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