Portuguese Irregular Verbs

A recent U.S. release, Portuguese Irregular Verbs is an early work (originally a self-published cult hit) of Scottish fiction writer Alexander McCall Smith (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency). Despite its name, it is not a language book, but rather a collection of funny short stories. The stories chronicle dryly the adventures of Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld—whose life’s pride is his acclaimed-but-obscure language book entitled Portuguese Irregular Verbs—and his two fellow German academics, Prinzel and Unterholzer, as they blunder in their over-educated, somewhat arrogant way through Europe. “The Principles of Tennis” finds the trio hilariously attempting to play tennis, and then to swim, at their hotel with no prior experience whatsoever, thinking that they can do these things merely because they have studied the theory behind each one. In “Holy Man,” von Igelfeld agonizes over a letter he has just thrown, unopened, into the trash: “Would Kant have thrown Professor J. G. K. L. Singh’s letter into his wastepaper basket? Von Igelfeld doubted it: the matter was clearly embraced by the Categorical Imperative.”