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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy book to categorize
This book was really three books in one from my perspective:

1) exploration of the mental process of learning language (both first and second) -- very scientific

2) study of the culture of India with some background history

3) the author's personal journey into learning Hindi and what it was like for an American to move to India and...
Published on July 10, 2009 by Holly

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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A modern American's "Passage to India"
As I read this book, I felt I was in a dream world. The story line floats from theme to theme without any obvious or concrete connection and yet I was drawn in.

It was like the compulsion one feels when upon waking from an intense and seemingly vivid dream: desperately trying to understand what it meant, trying to hang on to each intangible and ephemeral piece...
Published on June 12, 2009 by amazonbuyer


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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy book to categorize, July 10, 2009
This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Hardcover)
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This book was really three books in one from my perspective:

1) exploration of the mental process of learning language (both first and second) -- very scientific

2) study of the culture of India with some background history

3) the author's personal journey into learning Hindi and what it was like for an American to move to India and live there for one year.

The word that comes to mind when I reflect on the book is "dense". It's jam packed with information and research - much more than I was expecting. It really delves into how the human brain processes language, new experiences and cultures. Many linguists are interviewed after the author's return to the States and their explanations of language aquisition are included. The culture of India (at least her exposure to it) is a wonderful facet of the book and incredibly educational. The reader also goes along on her personal journey as she tries to fit into a different culture - with some successes and some failures plus she chronicals the other Americans she is with and shares their stories as well.

The book also requires work to read (I got out the old yellow highlighter and carried it around with book) since it moves back and forth chronologically as well as moving between themes. It's a very fluid book that isn't "structured" -- actually fits the subject well and reflects the stops and starts experienced by someone out of their comfort zone.

Overall, a truly enjoyable book. It is definitely not for someone who is looking for a fast, light, easy memoir which many are. It takes some study and time to get through. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in India or language acquisition. The reader must be committed to putting forth effort to enjoy and get something out of it.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read if you like India and languages, August 21, 2009
This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Hardcover)
Positive & interesting:

1) Facts and theories about learning languages.

2) Descriptions of life in India.

3) Story of author's struggles learning Hindi.

4) Great book title!

5) Interesting info on the deaf and sign language learning in India.

Problems:

1) No index. A book with this much research should include an index. For example, there are lots of theories and tidbits about language learning with no way to easily find them again after you have finished the book.

2) No footnotes. A book with this much research should include footnotes so readers can find sources for further reading.

3) Unhelpful chapter titles. They don't describe the contents of chapters and thus aren't helpful for finding topics.

4) Seeming lack of chronological order because the story in everyday language is interrupted so often by academic discussions.

5) Too many long and boring passages.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy book to categorize, March 13, 2012
This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Hardcover)
This book was really three books in one from my perspective:

1) exploration of the mental process of learning language (both first and second) -- very scientific

2) study of the culture of India with some background history

3) the author's personal journey into learning Hindi and what it was like for an American to move to India and live there for one year.

The word that comes to mind when I reflect on the book is "dense". It's jam packed with information and research - much more than I was expecting. It really delves into how the human brain processes language, new experiences and cultures. Many linguists are interviewed after the author's return to the States and their explanations of language aquisition are included. The culture of India (at least her exposure to it) is a wonderful facet of the book and incredibly educational. The reader also goes along on her personal journey as she tries to fit into a different culture - with some successes and some failures plus she chronicals the other Americans she is with and shares their stories as well.

The book also requires work to read (I got out the old yellow highlighter and carried it around with book) since it moves back and forth chronologically as well as moving between themes. It's a very fluid book that isn't "structured" -- actually fits the subject well and reflects the stops and starts experienced by someone out of their comfort zone.

Overall, a truly enjoyable book. It is definitely not for someone who is looking for a fast, light, easy memoir which many are. It takes some study and time to get through. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in India or language acquisition. The reader must be committed to putting forth effort to enjoy and get something out of it.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A modern American's "Passage to India", June 12, 2009
This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Hardcover)
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As I read this book, I felt I was in a dream world. The story line floats from theme to theme without any obvious or concrete connection and yet I was drawn in.

It was like the compulsion one feels when upon waking from an intense and seemingly vivid dream: desperately trying to understand what it meant, trying to hang on to each intangible and ephemeral piece. If you can make sense of it before it disappears, you can hold on to the dream. If you don't analyze the dream, it vanishes and two minutes later you can barely remember the dream, much less what it meant.

Even the real-life characters of the book are portrayed in a dream-like quality. They float in and out of the author's narrative. Their flaws are exposed, but softened by the dream-like world in which they exist.

Only when the author moves to the analysis of the experiences does the narrative leave the dream world. These sections are clear, academic, and enlightening. The analyses are scattered incongruously throughout the book and yet add to it's weight and somehow hold it together. Above all they help the linguistically unschooled (me) to grasp and make sense of the dream world.

The whole time I was reading "Dreaming in Hindi", I was trying to understand "where is the author going with this?" and "what is the purpose of this section?". But most of all I was trying to understand why I didn't "get" so much of the story.

As I headed toward the end I started to understand and things started to come together. I remembered that another book had put my head in the same place: E. M. Forster's "Passage to India".

"Dreaming in Hindi" has helped me to better understand Forster's book. Without using the construct of language, Forster was trying to put the Eastern mind into Western mind. What happens in this procedure is reminiscent of the surgery where the doctor switches brains. It doesn't necessarily follow the expected path.

Rich's use of linguistics as the vehicle to translate Indian culture & language for the "Western Hard-Wired Mind" is brilliant. Even though I am not a linguist and have never traveled to India, it worked for me. In a sense, "Dreaming in Hindi" woke me up mentally, while gently transporting me through the dream world of another language and culture.

Rich not only immerses herself in Hindi, but also becomes involved with an Indian school for the deaf. This involvement leads her on what seems to be an after-thought or side quest: to discover if the sign language of the Hindi deaf was evolving. But for me, this side quest became the exclamation point of the book and pulled everything together.

There is definitely something beautifully humorous and profound in learning a language within a language and finding out that it was not the real language. Instead, the language that you had learned was a rough estimate of something far more complex and powerful. To understand this, make sure you read the epilogue.

This book is a must read for all linguistic students and those who endeavor to become bilingual. I also think it should be required reading for students who will be traveling abroad. For those of us who are not, it is a as close as we will ever get to doing so.

I did not give "Dreaming in Hindi" 5 stars because it targets a very specific audience and requires a willingness on the part of the reader to trust that the author is taking them somewhere even when they feel totally lost and are trying to make sense of it all. With this book, I was never sure of where I was going or where I would land. Some folks don't like going on that kind of journey, in fact they resist it.

For me a five star book reaches a larger audience and does not require that kind of commitment from the reader. But if you revel in "blind" journeys, you will absolutely love this book.

If you are the kind of person who wakes up from the dream and could care less what it meant, maybe this is not the dream for you.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars When writing memoirs is your occupation, how do you manufacture an interesting experience? Go to India on a lark of course!, November 19, 2009
This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Hardcover)
I first heard of Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich in a New York Times profile article. In this article, Rich describes how hard it is to get Indian Americans to speak to her in Hindi (Answer: most are not proficient in Hindi, only Bollywood Hindustani). I was intrigued with the article and looked up the book. It was just the sort of book I would love to read. I constantly dream of taking up another language (Spanish) but never quite get around to it. Here was a memoir of someone who does and so I bought the book. Unfortunately I didn't like Dreaming in Hindi. It was rather tiresome and poorly written. In retrospect I should have known. After all there was no review of Dreaming in Hindi in the New York Time Book Review. That should have been a red flag right there.

Strangely in a book about Hindi and language (which I assume is the major focus of the book), there is very little discussion of Hindi itself. She tells us occasionally that Hindi is a very beautiful language, but then never really relates how it is beautiful. There is very little discussion of how Hindi personally relates to her. At the end of the book one wonders what the language really did for her. In some sense, the language allowed her to talk to people she might not have talked to otherwise. Then again she seemed to hate everyone she talked to who wasn't already fluent in English to begin with. So what did it get her? For that matter why even choose Hindi at all. Rich is awfully vague about it in the first few chapters. What was her connection to the language? Or even to India. Her only answer for her expedition to India is that it would be a lark (What a lark, what a plunge). This seems rather unbelievable.

Another component of the book was to look at second language acquisition and what it does to our brains. These sections are somewhat interesting but I think poorly written. For one thing she writes so poorly of her experiences of learning Hindi that all of the scientific discussions seem almost like disjointed asides and become uninteresting.

While the language section of the book was an abysmal failure, the actual experience of India part is more interesting. Rich gives us an interesting cast of acquaintances she makes in Udaipur. She has fascinating classmates: there is the adventurous Helaena (Rich kind of likes), the shadowy Whisperer (Rich hates), and the enigmatic Harold (Rich hates). Then there is her host family, a Jain family whom she looks down on. And then there are tons of other people that just show up when they need to. No context is provided for many of them (who they are, how they met). After a while one gets confused about who they all are. It's poorly written but interesting none the less. However if one wants to read about the topic of the Westerner's experience of India, it is perhaps better to look elsewhere. I recommend Ruth Prawer Jhabvala or Rumer Godden's Kingfishers Catch Fire, the latter especially. Although Rich lives in India for several months she remains a constant tourist. She does the usual Rajasthani camel treks and goes on shopping excursions to Jaipur. Then occasionally she exclaims how beautiful India is just to note she didn't totally hate the experience. Interestingly and tellingly, she usually says India is beautiful only when there are no Indians present.

All together I thought the book was inferior, and was a waste of time. The language part didn't come off and the experience of India parts are all tired clichés. If you've read any book about westerners in India, you've read all of this before. What is worse is that the author seems hidden in some sense, which is an odd choice for a memoir. We never really get a sense of who she is before or after the experience. Basic questions like the one I posed earlier are left missing. Why Hindi? Why not French? Or Italian? Rich explains that she wanted a language very different from English. But Hindi is related to English in some way (so what if the verb comes at the end. It does that in German too I think). Why not pick something more unrelated. Why not Japanese? Japanese is completely unrelated to English. I have been pondering this. My guess -and it's a cynical guess- is that living in Europe or Japan may have been too expensive for her (Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame who made a similar language learning expedition to Italy had a large advance from her publisher). Other countries such as ones in the middle east or Africa may have been too unsafe. I think India might have been the only choice. India is relatively safe for westerners and it is really cheap place to travel in. Bingo and you pick Hindi!

Just as baffling is the writing itself. Rich is an editor. Why is the book so poorly written, so disjointed? Surely an editor knows how to write clearly. My guess is that the book was probably rushed to publication to cash in and hoodwink the Eat, Pray, Love crowd.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite there, June 26, 2009
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This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Hardcover)
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I really wanted to love this book. I'm a linguist and help others learn a second language for a living, and have a special fondness for India. So this book, which is a personal account of one woman's attempt to learn Hindi by immersion, and includes quite a bit of discussion on academic approaches to second language learning, seemed tailor made for me. But the quality and/or style of the writing got in the way of my enjoyment. The author's style leans toward the poetic, but wasn't well executed. There were uses of words and phrases that felt awkward or vague or even ungrammatical (in the linguist's sense of that word, not the grammarians; i.e. not native-like). At times it was very hard to follow. Other times, it just felt like she was trying too hard. Some of the sections that delved into linguistics research were well done, but others were made me wince a bit. I would still recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning a second language by immersion, but unfortunately it just didn't live up to its promise for me.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, November 4, 2011
This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Kindle Edition)
I couldn't put this book down. It should be required reading for anyone considering an immersion program in a foreign language. Catherine Russell Rich's description of the various mental states involved in immersing oneself in a foreign language and culture was truly amazing. The disjointed feeling previous reviewers mentioned was, to me, the whole point of the book. Great stuff! I hope to read more by Ms. Rich in the near future.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Information Packed, August 18, 2009
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jessbcuz (Northern California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Hardcover)
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Katherine Russell Rich's memoir of her time in India learning and living Hindi is not a book you can breeze through. Interspersed with finely written scenes of her life as a an American living abroad just around the time of 9/11, Rich has packed this book with research on linguistics and second language acquisition. In the end this book is more of a hybrid between informational and personal non-fiction than a strict memoir. The research is interesting, especially to those of us who have tried to acquire a second language or hope to teach students who are acquiring one themselves, but sometimes it juts into the narrative disrupting the flow of her story. In someways, I think the research could of been pared back or perhaps organized differently into separate chapters allowing for a freer reading of the very interesting sections of her experiences.

There are many little gems within this book, but just as an example to the thoughtfulness within, I will relate just one of my favorites. After Rich has been there for a while and looks at herself in the mirror. She always though of herself as attractive, but as she looks in the mirror it is apparent she has begun to adopt the beauty standards specific to the culture she is immersed in, which changes her self perception quite drastically. It is these small moments, scattered throughout the memoir, that show that it is not just language she is talking about, but culture; learning a second language, for Rich, is clearly not just about words, but more particularly, about how we experience the world.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good in spite of itself, October 25, 2009
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Suzy Tee (Washington DC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Hardcover)
Let's start by saying I really, really liked this book. If you are interested in India, linguistics or both, it's a must read. But be warned: Ms. Rich's writing style is tricky. She tries very hard for a hip, rather arch style, despite her protestations that she's left her New York self behind. Dropped transitional words and occasional outright grammatical errors mar this story, and distract at first.

About halfway through the book, however, you get used to the style, and then the book starts to sing. While some characters are one-dimensional, others intrigue: Helaena, Ms. Rich's fellow student, is particularly fascinating. (Now if only she'd write a book!) And the linguistic side trips show a good deal of thought and research.

If you are looking for a romanticized version of India a la Eat Pray Love, you won't find it here. Sadly, and possibly due to her writing style, Ms. Rich doesn't seem to think much of the Indians she meets. But for a novel look into one woman's intercultural experience, the book works quite well - in spite of itself. I can even say I didn't want it to end.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dreams and Discourse, August 16, 2009
This review is from: Dreaming in Hindi (Hardcover)
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In 2001, editor and author Katherine Russell Rich decided to spend a year in India learning Hindi as a way of better understanding both India and herself. The literary result is Dreaming in Hindi, a memoir of language, culture, location, and dislocation.

Rich enrolls in an immersion program in Udaipur, a small town in Rajasthan, and gets much more than she bargained for. In the aftermath of 9/11, Rich, a New Yorker, sees the terrorist attacks through an Indian lens, facing a major irony: she left New York, but now the city is all people talk about. Her host family is polite, but not entirely accommodating, and the language study school is less than top-notch.

The book's chief focus is on how language can change perception and even, possibly, the brain itself. Rich weaves the latest in neuro-linguistics into her memoir of India, allowing the reader to learn the science behind second language acquisition as she wades into Hindi. This is where Rich is strongest-she is able to condense complex arguments and findings into an easily understandable summary.

The trials and travails of living in Udaipur are no less interesting but seem, ironically, less immediate. Perhaps out of sensitivity to her fellow students and friends in Udaipur, it feels like the people we meet are not fully fleshed out. I had the feeling of having wandered into a conversation already underway, having missed an important bit of characterization. I simply had trouble understanding the motivations of those around Rich, of appreciating them as autonomous human beings. This might also be a result of the mental fog that surrounded Rich's Hindi learning; she describes how, in picking up Hindi, she lost bits and pieces of English. Her dislocation and confusion certainly come through, and much of what happens to her seems slightly flat, as if translated one time too many.

On the whole, though, this is a good, interesting book, particularly for readers who are interested in travel or language.
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Dreaming in Hindi
Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich (Hardcover - July 7, 2009)
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