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Lost in Translation: Life in a New Language by Eva Hoffman

In 1959, when Eva Hoffman was just 13 years old, her family decided to turn their back on the prevalent anti-Semitism in Poland and emigrated to Canada. A move that felt, to the young adolescent, like the end of a world. Grappling with a new language, a new culture and new customs, young Eva takes a while to settle into her new world – and her lacking mastery of English is the central struggle for her.

From Paradise, to Exile, to The New World, Eva Hoffman’s memoir takes us on a journey that goes further than between the continents and across the oceans. Lost in Translation is more than just the memories of a disrupted childhood, it is a love letter to language itself. As someone who feels that the world can only exist insofar as it can be expressed in words, someone who as a child made up syllables and languages just to make sure the unknown was expressed, having to learn to live in a new language is both the perfect challenge and a potential tragedy. Hoffman had to discover that mastering a language involves so much more than knowing all the words from the dictionary and being able to apply grammar accurately. It is also about nuances and intonations, about colloquialisms – about knowing when not to apply grammar perfectly. She wrestles with the untranslatables that exist between languages and cultures and the fact that humour is hard to convey in another tongue. Over almost 300 pages, we see Eva grow from a young girl who does not want to learn the new language, into an English student at university and finally a successful journalist and writer who calls New York her home.

Beautifully written, Lost in Translation is a fascinating account of language and culture, of migration and memories, a love letter to the old world and the new world and a praise for the power of a word.

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