Review: What Language Do I Dream In? by Elena Lappin

The title of this piqued my Freudian interest. I love dreams and I love languages. What Language Do I Dream In? is something I always ask myself. Having moved countries at a young age, I could see myself in these pages. The many countries and languages and immigrations this book follows made for quite the premise.

I love reading about the Russian-Jewish experience because it’s so rare to see in American fiction or nonfiction. The specificity of reading about Soviet jews and the feeling of being seen it grants never fails to amaze me. It’s like that feeling you get inside when encountering someone in real life who shares the same roots, like “good to see us.” This is what this book felt like, for me.
Like, it’s reading about the same stories I was told as a child of grandmothers spending years in evacuation.

“When my grandmother and my mother were evacuated to Bashkiria during the war, my grandmother worked in a factory seven kilometers away from where they lived. In winter, as she walked home every evening along an empty road in complete darkness, she saw wolves’ eyes following her from very close by. The wolves were hungry. My grandmother was petrified. But she had no choice, and just kept walking. This is how her generation faced everything in life: by doing what they had to do, despite the ever-present fear.”

I love that last line.

“Having lost our homes, we are jealous of the steadfastness of the homes of others. We need to latch on to their roots and connect with stories that will never be ours.”

This is why I’m so obsessed with nostalgia and looking for things that resemble the past.

Also, capturing the loss of a language while learning a new one. I loved seeing this brought to the page. Especially when she has her own child and notices how easily the language slips away from her. What a moment.

“It was like having a secret language for just the two of us.”

Oh, and the Russian-Jewish humor is so hard to find in other books because it’s so specific to the language. Case in point:

“I emailed him a photo of a similar gun I had found on the internet and asked if he thought they were the same make and period. He shot back in Czech, without missing a beat: ‘I wish I had your problems!’”

The only other author I’ve experienced this feeling with is David Bezmozgis. So I would love any book recommendations if you have them…

The only thing I do wish from this book: To have spent more time inside Elena’s head as each of these progressions in her life happened. I wanted more insight into what she was thinking when she met her future husband or when she had her kids. She has lived quite the life. Quite the rare life. So I wanted more insight into her thoughts. Like, in hindsight, was there some moment of foreshadowing now that she can look on things back? I wanted more of that. One of those moments where you wish you could write the author to talk in detail…

This is the funny thing about reading memoirs, you can actually go check on the people mentioned in it online and feel like you know them. Lurking online like a distant family member, but in reality, you’re just a curious reader…

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