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Just read: Alexander McCall Smith, “Portuguese Irregular Verbs”

Portuguese Irregular VerbsPortuguese Irregular Verbs consists of humorous episodes in which Smith – a former professor of medical law – makes some good points about the vanity of some (or many?) members of academic circles.

This is quite an amusing book about Professor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld and his two academic colleagues who are, at times, his rivals, and at other times (almost) his friends. There are a number of observations about university life that are presented in a very funny way, e.g. the protagonist’s obsession with the importance of his opus magnum, a heavy book on everything that can be said about the irregular verbs in Portuguese. How Von Igelfeld is worried about the fact that his book doesn’t sell particularly well, how he tries to find out which of his colleagues has (or hasn’t) bought a copy, how shocked he is by the publisher’s suggestion to put the remaining stock to other, more profitable uses … all this is really funny.
However, one has a feeling that such topics have been dealt with before, and even in a funnier way and in better style, by David Lodge (in Small World, for example).
Apart from that, some things are just not right, e.g. the order of German academic titles (it’s “Professor Doktor”, not the other way round), or the spelling of “Tadeusz” (even if Thomas Mann spells it “Tadzio”, that’s no excuse for using “Tadseuz”).
The author’s homepage offers a PDF file containing the first chapter of Portuguese Irregular Verbs.

P.S.: What ought to be mentioned is the fact that the book is set in Regensburg – at least that is where Von Igelfeld holds his chair. Since he is frequently at congresses abroad somewhere, however, Regensburg itself is more or less non-existent in these episodes – it could be any small university town. But even if there are no local details of Regensburg, Alexander McCall Smith writes a series of books (three ‘Von Igelfeld’ books have been published so far, and he is working on vol. 4) on a German professor, or three German profs even. A British view of the scholarly community with a pronounced German flavour …

4 comments to Just read: Alexander McCall Smith, “Portuguese Irregular Verbs”

  • My sentiments exactly. Funny, but still… maybe it wasn’t sad enough to be really funny?

  • > that’s no excuse for using “Tadseuz”

    This (wrong?) spelling is also used on

    However it seems that this spelling DOES exist: “Tadseuz Janowski” (

  • rip

    @Jochen: The URL you quote as proof of existence is one of precisely 9 (nine) hits that Google offers for that (obviously) erroneous spelling. The number of hits for “Tadeusz” is 11.000.000 (eleven million).
    But thanks for the Tiny link to that quiz – Google doesn’t find that, which just shows (again) that Google isn’t perfect (yet). ;-)
    It makes sense for the quiz to follow the spelling used by Alexander McCall Smith. The name occurs about ten times, and the spelling is consistent.

  • McCall Smith’s Botswana novels were really, really good – I read one of the Edinburgh-based ones and immediately forgot about it. Mma Ramotswe, however, will always have a cosy (if voluminous) corner in my reading heart reserved especially for herself.