Lissa Soep's "Other People's Words: Friendship, Loss, and the Conversations That Never End"

Other People's Words, by Lissa Soep, has me finding memories of loved ones in unexpected places and times.

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.


Lissa Soep's Other People's Words encourages you to embrace those moments when you hear someone else's words coming from your mouth, or in your memory. I frequently hear myself say things I know I learned from my father, and I've often heard my daughter do the same with things her mother.

Here is a great interview with Soep on KQED.

Other People's Words: Friendship, Loss, and the Conversations That Never End by Lissa Soep via Amazon