Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 17, 2012

The beauty of well-crafted sentences

Thanks to Claire, over at the fantastic Word by Word site for pointing out this New York Times article I had missed, “My Life’s Sentences” by the American author Jhumpa Lahiri.

I haven’t yet read Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, which Claire reviews over on Word by Word , but I have read Ms Lahiri’s wonderfully crafted and lyrical short stories in her collections –  her first short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 – and in those published in The New Yorker.

Ms Lahiri’s stories are largely about Bengali immigrants living in America, and the rifts that often develop between the first generation immigrants and their American-born children. I love stories like this, with generations straddling two cultures and not seeing eye to eye on so many issues.

As a mother, I’m also raising my children in another culture and I find this to be a fascinating experience. When your children are growing up in another country, they truly become a part of that new culture. They may speak your language well and accept your traditions, but it’s natural that they will feel more affinity with the local culture. Ms Lahiri beautifully captures this tug-of-war that can develop between the generations.

In this article, she discusses her fascination with well-crafted sentences. Ms Lahiri uses as an example her readings in different languages, in her case Italian, to truly focus in on the language and the construction of sentences.

I loved reading this because I have felt this many times, too. I love to read in other languages and I find that I focus in even more on sentence construction and syntax when I read in a language other than my own.

Sometimes I feel that I fully appreciate the beauty of the language more if I’m reading in a different language, whereas I might not notice those elements the first time I read a  work in my mother tongue.

So, readers and writers, what do you think? Are you also drawn by well-crafted sentences? Do you notice this even more when reading in other languages? For those of you who enjoy reading cross-cultural fiction, who are your favorite authors? I’d love to hear your views.


  1. Thank you so much for the mention and links Kimberly🙂 I so loved this essay for all the same reasons, Lahiri really gets it and shares something that resonates with many of us, which makes her work even more compelling, because she gives us a little personal insight.

    Personally I am addicted to well-crafted sentences and for this reason love Francine Prose’s excellent book ‘Reading Like a Writer’. My favourite books are those with all the highlighted passages like Martin Booth’s ‘The Industry of Souls’ and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child. I also like to read translated fiction, since there are so many languages I don’t speak, but cultures that I wish to immerse inside their story-telling culture.

    Sadly I don’t read too much in French, the only other language I speak, it is still early days and I feel that I had to give up so much just to be here, that reading and writing in English is the one area that I guard and wish to continue improving and excelling as much as i can in my own language.

    But with time that may change.

    • Thanks, Claire! I always love your posts and I was happy to see your post with the Lahiri article. I’m dying to read the Francine Post book. I’ve heard from so many people that it’s a must and I read an interview with her about that topic. Since I’m in the US on holidays now, I’ll be sure to pick it up! I’m sure you’ll be reading in French in no time. I read in it to keep up my (rusty) French. : ) Such a beautiful language.

  2. For me the language the writer uses is the biggest factor as to whether I enjoy a book or not. I love JP Donleavy’s writing style, it’s minimalist but very clever at the same time. You can almost pick out paragraphs and read them like a poem.

    Often I will find that even if a book isn’t focussing on a subject I’m interested in, if the language is innovative and interesting, then I will seek out more from that author.

    In terms of foreign language books I have to admit that I am not very well read! Any recommendations?

    • Thanks fof your comment, Gemma. I agree with you on interetsing language that can help draw me to a book even if it’s not my favorite genre. I’m not familiar with JP Donleavy, but I’ll be sure to take a look at teh books. Thanks!

  3. I enjoy to read authors in their own language – not to criticize translators, but it gives me more of the authors’ feelings – reading a translated novel versus the right one gives another view – I read, understand spoken, speak and write danish, english, german and french – read and understand spoken swedish, norwegian and dutch – read moreover spanish – super glad that it has been so for me, it gives me plenty of opportunities to understand others, I think…😉

    The “problem” may be that once in a while use expressions in one language that really belongs in another language grammatical or another language soul – when it’s happens mostly not a problem at all…😉

    Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, Alexandre Dumas, Johannes V Jensen, Steen Steensen Blicher, Vilhelm Moberg, Ken Follett, Erich Maria Remarque, Martin Andersen Nexø, Heinrich Böll, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gustav Wied, Hans Kirk and many more are authors that I have read with great pleasure in their own language…😉

    • Great comment, Ledrakenoir. Most literary translators do such an amazing job (and I truly think it is an extremeley difficult profession), but something is always lost in translation – especially with expressions. I also love making the effort to read in other languages when I can. Thanks for the comment!!

  4. When I love a well crafted sentence I read it aloud to enjoy the musicality of it. A sentence like that can inspire me. I also read in Spanish. I also love poetry in Spanish.

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