On Borrowed Words by Ilan Stavans
A Memoir of Language

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Yiddish, Spanish, Hebrew, and English-at various points in Ilan Stavans's life, each of these has been the prominent and controversial scholar's primary language. His family's immigrant experience took them from Eastern Europe to the Jewish ghetto of Mexico City, which Stavans abandoned for Israel and subsequently the United States. 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, a young Zionist in Israel, and a student of theology in New York to his career now as a noted academic and writer.

Since survival has meant borrowing other people's languages and pretending they were his own, Stavans offers a view of his journey from the perspective of words. Along the way, he introduces his remarkable family: his brother, a musical wunderkind; his father, a Mexican soap opera star; his grandmother who emigrated from Eastern Europe to Mexico in 1929. Masterfully weaving personal reminiscences with a provocative investigation into language acquisition and cultural code switching, On Borrowed Words is a memorable exploration of Stavans's search for his place in the world.

About Ilan Stavans

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Ilan Stavans is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Latino Literature Prize, among other honors. Stavans is Lewis Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College.
Published August 27, 2001 by Viking Adult. 256 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Education & Reference, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction

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(Even his Whitmanesque ode to encountering New York for the first time evokes literature, as he compares the city to “a huge book, a novel-in-progress perhaps, filled with anecdotes, with a multilingual poetry impossible to repress.”) His meditations on the paradoxes of language are incisive (“Cu...

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The New York Times

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In this memoir we get to know members of Stavans's family, their languages and shared secrets and the way in which his relationships with them are bound up in word and image associations.

Sep 16 2001 | Read Full Review of On Borrowed Words: A Memoir o...

Publishers Weekly

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The prolific Stavans, author or editor of 18 books (including The Hispanic Condition and The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories) tries to elucidate his ethnically overdetermined condition as a Mexican Jew of Eastern European origins (his family's name originally was Stavchansky) who now lives in the U...

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