Jhumpa Lahiri gives keynote address in Rome

Celebrated author is guest of Italy Reads at John Cabot University

A capacity crowd attended the keynote address by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri at Rome's John Cabot University on the evening of 6 November. Lahiri's acclaimed novel The Namesake is the focus of this year's Italy Reads, John Cabot's community-based English language reading and cultural exchange programme.

Beginning her address in Italian, Lahiri described Italy Reads as "a beautiful link between Italian and American literature", saying that the "rare and precious opportunity to read a book together creates a beautiful sense of community and dialogue."

Lahiri read two sections from The Namesake before discussing her book with Prof. George Minot and Prof. Carlos Dews.

An American of Indian heritage, the author spoke of the similarites between her own dual-identity and that of Gogol Ganguli, the main protagonist of The Namesake. However she was quick to point out that she didn't consider the book autobiographical “in any specific way."

The story centres around the internal conflict and clashing cultural identites between Indian and American traditions, as Gogol struggles to accept his unusual first name.

After reading the two passages, Lahiri made reference to the fact that it was already a decade since the book was written and joked "I wanted the sentences to be different already."

Lahiri told the audience that as a child she was most inspired by "stories of transformation", underlining the "essential" nature of libraries which she described as "the first place, the only place for many years that I felt entirely safe."

Lahiri said that, beyond the theme of identity, "what [The Namesake] is really about is the importance of books and what they can give you...Books saved me, saved my life, and continue to save my life. Books are the only things we really have in the end."

Supported by the US embassy in Rome, Italy Reads has focused on a number of classic American works since its foundation in 2009, including Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Thorton Wilder's Our Town, Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Following the Lahiri address, Prof. Dews announced that the focus of next year's programme would be Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.

Meanwhile as part of this year's Italy Reads, the English Theatre of Rome is staging Under the Overcoat, Alashiya Gordes' adaption of The Namesake. This colourful production with live music by Rashmi Bhatt is supported by the Indian and American embassies in Rome, and there are still a handful of tickets left for the final performances on 9 and 10 November.

The show's director Theodora Voutsa told Wanted in Rome "We are using the classical ancient Greek theatre structure to tell a modern story about identity, choices and consequences, through one man's journey from India of the east to America of the west."

To reserve seats for the final shows tel. 3489355626 or email rometheatre@yahoo.com.

General Info

Address John Cabot Universtiy, Via della Lungara 233, Trastevere.

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Jhumpa Lahiri gives keynote address in Rome

John Cabot Universtiy, Via della Lungara 233, Trastevere.