Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Namesake and The Interpreter of Maladies, reflects on her childhood reading and writing in the latest issue of the New Yorker. Most of the books she read as the daughter of an immigrant family had characters with whom she could not identify, as she points out below. In my book Enchanted Hunters, I tried to make the case that children rarely identify with the misfits, rebels, runaways, truants and orphans they encounter in the books they read. Instead, child readers are drawn into the excitement of adventurous lives and become “more like witnesses who watch events unfold and read the minds of the characters experiencing them.”
Here’s Jhumpa Lahiri:
I was aware that I did not belong to the worlds I was reading about: that my family’s life was different, that different food graced our table, that different holidays were celebrated, that my family cared and fretted about different things. And yet when a book was in my possession, and as I read it, this didn’t matter. I entered into a pure relationship with the story and its characters, encountering fictional worlds as if physically, inhabiting them fully, at once immersed and invisible.
Stieg Larsson modelled Lisbeth Salander in his Millennium-Trilogy on Pippi Longstocking. My bet is that he too did not identify with Astrid Lundgren’s character and instead entered into a relationship with her and her world, “immersed and invisible.”
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