DREAMING IN HINDI by Katherine Russell Rich


Coming Awake in Another Language
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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 and fascinating 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.

Pub Date: July 7th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-618-15545-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2009