Fifty Sounds: A Memoir of Language, Learning, and Longing

Liveright. Mar. 2022. 360p. ISBN 9781324091318. $27.95. MEMOIR
In her debut work, Barton presents a candid blend of memoir and exploration of linguistics. After completing her undergraduate degree in philosophy, Barton accepted a position teaching English in Japan without having previously studied Japanese language or culture. She ended up living in Japan for most of her adult life and eventually became a literary Japanese/English translator based in England. Here she describes her experiences navigating two languages through vignette-like chapters, each based on a Japanese mimetic, or sound-symbolic vocabulary, “where the beating heat of Japanese lies,” Barton writes. For instance, “koro-koro,” the sound of an object rolling, lends itself to an exploration of how Barton’s perception of the world seems to change depending on which language she’s speaking and how she sees herself and her place in the world. Throughout the memoir, Barton lays bare her difficulties and triumphs—both personal and professional—with unflinching honesty and self-deprecating humor.
VERDICT The philosophical explorations of linguistics may be esoteric for some readers, but many can relate to Barton’s journey of finding her place in the world. Readers who are fascinated by the art of translation or stories about living between cultures will find much to unpack here.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing