Genevieve Stuttaford (review date 9 December 1988)
SOURCE: Stuttaford, Genevieve. Review of Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language, by Eva Hoffman. Publishers Weekly 234, no. 24 (9 December 1988): 54.
[In the following review, Stuttaford notes that an immigrant's assimilation into a new culture is the dominant theme in Hoffman's Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language.]
Daughter of Holocaust survivors, the author [Eva Hoffman], a New York Times Book Review editor, lost her sense of place and belonging when she emigrated with her family from Poland to Vancouver in 1959 at the age of 13. Although she works within a familiar genre in Lost in Translation, Hoffman's is a penetrating, lyrical memoir that casts a wide net as it joins vivid anecdotes and vigorous philosophical insights on Old World Cracow and Ivy League America; Polish anti-Semitism; the degradations suffered by immigrants; Hoffman's cultural nostalgia, self-analysis and intellectual passion; and the atrophy of her Polish from disuse and her own disabling inarticulateness in English as a newcomer. Linguistic dispossession, she explains, “is close to the dispossession of one's self.” As Hoffman savors the cadences and nuances of her adopted language, she remains ever conscious of assimilation's perils: “But how does one bend toward another culture without falling over, how does one strike an elastic balance between rigidity and self-effacement?”