How Latin, “an undead language,” has enlivened the author’s life.
In 2008, after being laid off from her position as a book editor, 58-year-old Patty retreated to her home in rural Rhinebeck, New York, where she quickly became bored. After 34 years in publishing, including founding The Poseidon Press, the author missed the social and literary stimulation of her former life. A lover of “words, grammar, books, language,” she decided to fill a gap in her knowledge by learning Latin. In her bright, amusing debut memoir, Patty recounts the challenges and many rewards of her project as well as her transformation from successful career woman to aging retiree. In her first semester at Vassar, Patty was confronted with Latin’s mind-boggling complexities: five declensions of nouns, 38 inflections, four conjugations of verbs in six tenses, which themselves comprised 288 possible inflections. Nevertheless, she persisted with enthusiasm. A bubbly talker, she shared her newfound knowledge with friends, until she noticed their eye-rolling: “You know, Ann, not everybody cares about these things,” one friend remarked. Unfortunately, Patty shows no restraint in this memoir, including long stretches on vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. The subjunctive, the ablative absolute, the active and passive periphrastics, “the supine, the middle-voice verb, the little-used locative case, and the historical infinitive”—all make their ways into the book. Happily, grammar and translation—of Catullus, Ovid, Horace, and Virgil—often evoke Patty’s memories of two divorces, her tender friendship with a gay man who died of AIDS, the scandal that caused her to lose her imprint, her bout with “a very scary, invasive cancer,” and reflections about her mother, who had encouraged her to study Latin, “something she herself had loved.”
A mostly lively portrait of a woman’s language-inspired metamorphosis.