Elena Lappin and Hisham Matar: What Language Do I Dream In?
Elena Lappin’s life as a multiple emigré could be described as ‘five languages in search of an author’. Russian, Czech, French, German, Hebrew and English – each language is a link to a different piece of her rich family mosaic. Triggered by the discovery of a biological father she never knew, Lappin's memoir is the story of finding a voice in a language not one’s own, and a meditation on how language runs throughout memory and family history to form identity. She writes: ‘As a writer, I died when my parents decided to emigrate, and I knew it. And then came the miracle of being reborn in English.’
Hisham Matar’s The Return is an intensely personal tale of loss. Hisham Matar was 19 when his father was kidnapped and taken to prison in Libya. He would never see him again. 22 years later, after the fall of Gaddafi, he was finally able to return to his homeland for the first time. In this heartbreaking, illuminating memoir he describes his return to a country and a family he thought he would never see again. He has said: ‘Ending up with a language other than the one I was born in is neither, as in an opera finale, redemption nor a falling off. The truth is elsewhere. I am a Libyan who writes in English – I write in a language my father did not wish me to write to him in – yet the most consistent response to this fate has not been sorrow or unease or shame or, for that matter, pride. What remains is a writer’s devotion to his craft and the daily occupation to express the soul’s three chambers: memory, curiosity and will.’
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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. She is the editor of ONE, an imprint of Pushkin Press.
Hisham Matar was born in New York to Libyan parents, spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo, and has lived most of his adult life in England. His debut novel In the Country of Men was published in twenty-nine languages and won numerous international prizes as well as being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was published to great acclaim. He lives in London and New York.