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On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language

On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language
Author: Ilan Stavans
ISBN 13: 9780142000946
ISBN 10: 142000949
Edition: Reprint edition
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: 2002-07-30
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
List Price: $17.00

Yiddish, Spanish, Hebrew, and English-at various points in Ilan Stavans's life, each of these has been his primary language. In this rich memoir, the linguistic chameleon outlines his remarkable cultural heritage from his birth in politically fragile Mexico, through his years as a student activist and young Zionist in Israel, to his present career as a noted and controversial academic and writer.

Along the way, Stavans introduces readers to some of the remarkable members of his family-his brother, a musical wunderkind; his father, a Mexican soap opera star; his grandmother, who arrived in Mexico from Eastern Europe in 1929 and wrote her own autobiography. Masterfully weaving personal reminiscences with a provocative investigation into language acquisition and cultural code switching, On Borrowed Words is a compelling exploration of Stavans's search for his place in the world.

"Stavans's Mexico . . . is a treacherous but vivid world seen through the eyes of a gifted child; his subsequent encounter with America makes the New World seem-astonishingly-new." (James Atlas, author of Bellow: A Biography)

Library Journal

Stavans (Spanish, Amherst Coll.), a prolific scholar of Hispanic literature and culture, here describes his life in Mexico, Israel, and the United States, showing how the languages he "borrowed" from these different cultures shaped and now reflect different periods of his life. Stavans was born in Mexico City in 1961 to Jewish parents who had fled Eastern Europe. Through brilliantly drawn portraits of his family, he reveals his grandmother's harshness, his father's acting career, and his brother's mental illness. Stavans's account of his upbringing in Mexico, where he was fluent in Yiddish and Spanish, and his life as a Mexican Jew bring astute insights into culture and language. He also discusses his emigration to the United States, his education, and his present-day role as a public intellectual, giving readers a personal look at issues of race, literature, memory, and love in the modern world. His Mexican and Jewish heritage and his acceptance and love of life in the United States make him an important voice in the continuing discussion of multiculturalism. Highly recommended for literature, Hispanic, and Jewish studies collections. Gene Shaw, NYPL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.