What Language Do I Dream In? A Memoir by Elena Lappin
(Virago (UK), 2016)

What Language Do I Dream In? A Memoir

by Elena Lappin

Elena Lappin’s life could be described as ‘five languages in search of an author’. She now lives in London, but she was born in Russia and has lived in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Israel, Canada, and the United States. As a multiple émigré, her decision to write in English was the unexpected result of many wanderings, and this memoir tells the story of finding a voice in a language that is not one’s own. Russian, Czech, German, Hebrew, and finally English: how do they, and the family roots and cultures they represent define who she is, and how has adopting English allowed her to be a writer?

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. Their encounter introduces an element of mystery to the search for her roots, and a surprise: suddenly, English is more than the accidental ‘home in exile’ – it is the language she may have been close to from the very beginning.

Reviews

Elena Lappin can absorb new languages like a sponge absorbing water: a useful gift, since a life begun in Russia soon swept her from country to country, and she could live comfortably in each of them. But in which could she go that one step further, and find her true self as the writer she knew herself to be? This book is her story of her search for that special language. It is a captivating book, so sparkly with vitality, humour and genuine charm that English readers have to love it - and feel lucky. Because the language Lappin finally homed in on is theirs!”
- Diana Athill
Lappin presents a thoughtful migrant's memoir that will speak to all those of us who find their lives suspended between nations, cultures, languages; between past and present selves; between rival identities and loyalties; to all those who live with a hyphen at the centre of their life stories. Which is to say, to nearly everyone”
- Dan Vyleta, Giller Prize-shortlisted author of The Crooked Maid and the national bestseller Smoke
Her supple prose is infused by warmth, tenderness and ebullience . . . An uplifting story”
- Amanda Craig, Observer
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
This beautiful exploration of what it means to be European in the twenty-first 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
Elena Lappin is a marvellous 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