At the Freud Museum last week (where I was told Vienna wants Freud’s room back please), I heard Sathnam Sanghera and Eva Hoffman in conversation. Both have written memoirs – Boy with a Topknot and Lost in Translation (respectively) – that share experiences of a childhood with two languages and two cultures, and struggles to integrate the both.
Some really interesting points arose – the paradox of authors sharing an intimate story with so many (especially in our technological age where information is far more accessible), how writing can fix or un-fix memories for the author (how a childhood memory could become the one enshrined in the memoir rather than anything else). Thinking and feeling while using different languages may change – Sathnam referred to research that suggests people can feel differently depending on what tongue they use. While very articulate and amusing in English, he insists he’s not so in Punjabi – he just doesn’t have as many words. Writing, as we know intuitively, can be therapeutic too – a member of the audience spoke movingly of having written down his family memoir as a permanent legacy for his grandchildren, and how this provided some relief to him. He wouldn’t fear death without his family story being lost.
I’d recommend both books to read.