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What Language Do I Dream In?

A Memoir

List Price: $26.00

February 14, 2017 | Hardcover | 6 x 9, 520 Pages | ISBN 9781619029118
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Taking its title from a question often asked of polyglots, What Language Do I Dream In? is Elena Lappin’s stunning memoir about how language runs throughout memory and family history to form identity. Lappin’s life could be described as “five languages in search of an author”, and as a multiple émigré, her decision to write in English was the result of many wanderings. Russian, Czech, German, Hebrew, and finally, English: each language is a link to a different piece of Lappin’s rich family mosaic and the struggle to find a voice in a language not one’s own.

From Europe to North America—and back again, via some of the twentieth century’s most significant political upheavals—Lappin reconstructs the stories and secrets of her parents and grandparents with the tenderness of a novelist and the eye of a documentary filmmaker. The story of Lappin’s identity is unexpectedly complicated by the discovery, in middle age, that her biological father was an American living in Russia. This revelation makes her question the very bedrock of her knowledge of her birth, and adds a surprising twist: suddenly, English may be more than the accidental “home in exile”—it is a language she may have been close to from the very beginning.

“English is not my mother tongue,” writes Elena Lappin, “it is something more valuable: a language I was lucky enough to be able to choose.” What Language Do I Dream In? is a wonderful, honest story about love, family, memory, and how they intertwine to form who we are.

ELENA LAPPIN is a writer and editor. Born in Moscow, she grew up in Prague and Hamburg, and has lived in Israel, Canada, the United States and — longer than anywhere else — in London. She is the author of Foreign Brides and The Nose, and has contributed to numerous publications, including Granta, Prospect, the Guardian, and The New York Times Book Review.


“A meditation on family secrets, loss, and personal belonging, Lappin’s book reveals how, in the absence of rootedness, language can become the “shelter” and home that nurtures selfhood and identity. A thoughtful, unique meditation on exile and homecoming.” —Kirkus

“This intriguing memoir throws a unique light on the fortunes of a young woman – her travels, her cultural inheritance and, most of all, her languages.” —The Jewish Chronicle

“This beautiful exploration of what it means to be European in the 21st century has never been more necessary. In characteristically elegant prose, Lappin takes readers on a brave personal journey as she uncovers painful family secrets set against a backdrop of political cruelty and perpetual motion. Her warmth, humanity and above all understanding of the need for communication shimmer throughout, making this a book full of optimism, deeply resonant with today’s world of global dislocation.” —Anne Sebba, author of Les Parisiennes

“Elena Lappin is a marvelous writer. Her riveting memoir describes living in five languages and as many countries. The family relationships and the political upheavals which so often shape them are complex, yet her writing is as readable and warm as a letter from a friend.” —Vesna Goldsworthy, author of Gorsky

“This intriguing memoir throws a unique light on the fortunes of a young woman – her travels, her cultural inheritance and, most of all, her languages. Elena Lappin’s tale is an archetype of post-war political upheaval, her travels and migrations a reflection of world events . . . [a] remarkable memoir.” —Anne Garvey, Jewish Chronicle

“Her supple prose is infused by warmth, tenderness and ebullience . . . An uplifting story.” —Amanda Craig, Observer

“I want to use words like gracious and elegant to describe this book, because it’s wise and soft, candid and very sincere, because Elena Lappin has seized through the topic of language a means to express the movements of her heart and the integrity of self and family.” —Minna Proctor, author of Landslide

“Lappin’s work is full of warmth, wise, full of comic anecdotes. It’s a history of her family as much as her own memoir, going back multiple generations and projecting forward into the future.” —Cherwell

“It’s refreshing to see a memoir that doesn’t make a song and dance about family secrets, but instead uses them as landmarks for locating the author’s own personality.”  —Times Literary Supplement

“[Lappin] reflects powerfully on the extent to which her identity has been established by the complicated multiplicity of languages in her life, and on the ways in which each of these languages reflects a powerful political and historical reality.” —The Jewish News of Northern California


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