s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Books: Portuguese Irregular Verbs

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Books: Portuguese Irregular Verbs

This is not, as the title might suggest, a grammar book. (As someone who owns many foreign language grammar books, it’s not at all implausible that I would plow through another one, but I’m not currently interested in Portuguese.)

This is actually a book of short stories by Alexander McCall Smith (who is probably better known for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series). The stories in Portuguese Irregular Verbs follow the misadventures of Herr Professor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, a German linguistics professor whose seminal published work is called Portuguese Irregular Verbs.

I’d heard McCall Smith’s work praised from a number of sources, but I confess that I was a bit disappointed by this work. The stories are clever and well executed, but I found my stomach twisting into knots as the good professor got himself into one tangle after another. I’m too empathetic, I think; I cared more about the main character than the author did. (Or than the fictitious protagonist would probably care about himself, to be honest.)

I did like one chapter, in which Professor von Igelfeld finds himself wondering which of his esteemed colleagues actually own a copy of Portuguese Irregular Verbs. It’s simple work to scan the bookshelves in the offices of most of them, but there’s one professor who keeps most of his books at home, and so von Igelfeld must think of a series of contrived excuses for visiting his friend’s apartment and inspecting the bookshelves. The ending is unexpected and quite sweet.


At September 10, 2006 8:17 PM, Blogger Tolkien Boy said...

I must admit to loving McCall-Smith quite a bit. He's got a nice blend of zany characters and tight plots.

At September 10, 2006 8:42 PM, Blogger Katya said...

I may still give the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series a shot.

At September 11, 2006 8:53 AM, Blogger Melyngoch said...

You should try N1LDA; I think you'd like it more. (Mma Ramotswe is much more respectable than von Igenfeld.)


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