Type in Dreaming in Hindi on Google and the fifth result is a link to Oprah’s website.
I’ve never purposely read something simply because it was an Oprah’s Book Club suggestion, but somehow I landed on their list of 10 Terrific Reads of 2009 and found out about Katherine Russell Rich’s Dreaming in Hindi.
After losing her job and beating cancer twice, Rich accepts a freelance writing job in India in order to fulfil her dream to become fluent in a second language: Hindi. We read about her journey and as she learns more about India, its customs and the language, we learn more about how language in general defines who you are.
After returning from India, Rich met with professors and linguistic experts to discuss how the human mind deals with languages. So throughout the book, we learn more about her study into the way humans learn languages and what learning a second language does to your mind.
I picked the book up because the summary seemed interesting and I figured if Oprah’s people recommend it, then why not? I was expecting something light like Eat, Pray, Love but a bit more interesting and maybe a little less chick lit.
Well, it certainly wasn’t chick lit.
I enjoyed following Rich’s journey and getting to know the characters (and indeed, they are some unique characters) she met and reading all the random and wacky (and sometimes uncomfortable) things she went through. It was great to read about her adventures, her stories of betrayal, fun and sometimes fear. I even enjoyed learning a bit more about India’s history and customs.
The only downside for me was that I felt she went too deep into the theoretical and scientific side of learning a new language. At the start, I found it really interesting how she interwove her discussions with linguists with her stories of her experience, and it was interesting to learn more about how we learn languages and how it scrambles your brain for a period of time.
But then it just pushed the story on and on – the book just never seemed to end and it started to feel like work just reading it. By about three-quarters into it, I finally gave up and would skip past any of the linguistic parts. I read afterwards that many people gave up on the book because of it.
Most of all, I just wanted to hear more about her time teaching at the school for boys with hearing impairments and what she ended up learning about who she is in another language. She got there in the end, but too late. It was just too dense with too much going on.
While I was writing this review, I found this book trailer online. In a way, I’m really glad I didn’t find it before I picked the book up, because I really wouldn’t have read it. I probably wouldn’t have watched the trailer all the way through to the end, where she finally tells us what the book is really about. Eek.
Has anyone else out there read it? What did you think?