Literature, Language, and Elitism in Higher Education

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Anisa Ellahi wants to be a translator of great literature, but that world doesn’t really open up to her until she meets Adam. When Anisa invites Adam to meet her parents, she’s immediately shocked by how quickly he’s able to pick up Urdu and speak the language fluently to her family. In fact, he speaks Urdu better than she does. How is this possible? What is his secret?

His secret, friends, is The Centre. Have you ever wished you could learn to speak a language fluently in less than a month? Read it, write it, listen to it, speak it, everything? Well, then set Duolingo aside because The Centre is your answer. Of course, there’s a catch. Or a few catches, really. First of all, you can’t just walk into the Centre. The program is extremely elite and invite-only. It also costs upwards of $20k to take a course. If you’re able to get in and you’re able to pay the exorbitant price, you’ll be forced to cut yourself off from the outside world. Every day, you’ll listen to language recordings and meditate without any contact with any other of The Centre’s learners. If you can do all of that, you will leave speaking the language of your choice fluently.

During Anisa’s time in the Centre, she chooses to learn German, and she spends her days listening to recordings of a man speaking German, telling his full life story. At first, she can’t understand a word he’s saying. Then, suddenly, when she enters the listening booth, she realizes she understands every word he’s saying, and she remembers everything he’s told her since the beginning of the recordings. After Anisa leaves the circle, she’s able to translate works of German literature, and her translation career becomes so successful that she decides to come back to the Centre to learn Russian.

Sound good? Well, Anisa soon learns that it might just be too good to be true. As Anisa becomes more enthralled by The Centre and what it’s capable of doing, she starts to look into how the program works. And the answers to her questions will surprise you. You won’t see this ending coming.

As someone who has always loved learning languages, I found this premise so intriguing, and the story definitely delivered. The Centre is a book that celebrates literature and the joy of learning languages. But it’s also a dark, unsettling novel that will give you the creeps and leave you with so many thoughts about classism, the elitism of higher learning, and more. Read this book, friends! You won’t regret it.

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