Other People’s Words
Friendship, Loss, and the Conversations That Never End
by Lissa Soep
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Pub Date 16 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 15 Apr 2024
What if the great love of your life is friendship?
In their twenties, Lissa Soep and her boyfriend forged deep friendships with two other couples—Mercy and Christine; and Emily and Jonnie—until, decades later, Jonnie died suddenly, in an accident, and Christine passed away after a mysterious illness. Christine had been a writer, Jonnie a storyteller. Lissa couldn’t imagine a world without their letters, postcards, texts—a world without their voices. Then she found comfort in a surprising place. As a graduate student, she had studied the philosophy of the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, who wrote about the many voices that can echo through a single person’s speech. Suddenly, Bakhtin’s theory that our language is “filled to overflowing with other people’s words” came to life. Lissa began hearing Jonnie and Christine when least expected. In a conversation with Emily, a familiar phrase was spoken, and suddenly, there was Jonnie, with his riotous laugh, vibrant in her mind. Mercy recited an Adrienne Rich poem in just the way Christine used to and, for a moment, Christine was with them in the room.
Other People’s Words shows us how we carry within us the language of loved ones who are gone, and how their words can be portals to other times and places. Language—as with love—is boundless, and Other People’s Words is an intimate, original, and profoundly generous look at its power to nurture life amid the wreckage of grief. Dialogues do not end when a friendship or person is gone; instead, they accrue new layers of meaning, showing how the conversations we share with those we love continue after them, and will continue after us.
“Other People’s Words is one of those books that changes you forever. Now I can hear the ‘double voicing’ in my own life: the ways the language of my past—of dear friends and family—has fused into and shapes the language of my present; how it keeps people I have lost with me always.”—Peggy Orenstein