I don't speak Portuguese, so I read "Budapest" by famed Brazilian artist Chico Buarque in its good new English translation by seasoned literary translator Alison Entrekin. It's quite a challenge to communicate some of the finer points of Romance languages and nuances in a non-Romance language, and at times, the writing doesn't seem as eloquent as it probably is in Portuguese. However, Entrekin certainly did the author justice (she apparently worked closely with Buarque on the translation).
The book, set mainly in Rio de Janeiro and Budapest, Hungary, tells the tale of a ghostwriter who lives in the shadows of his outstanding work, which repeatedly brings others fame and fortune. On a whim, he decides to move to Budapest and learn the "only language the devil respects." What follows is the protagonist's, José Costa's, immersion in the Hungarian language, life, and of course, love, which comes in the form of an enigmatic and unorthodox Hungarian teacher. Buarque's writing is at times breathless and always quite stunning, and it reminds me of some of Andrea DeCarlo's earlier works. Buarque's descriptions of language acquisition are very interesting, and while this book does not focus on the translation profession per se, it's an insider's view of learning a new language as an adult. While some of the aspects of the plot are highly unlikely (we won't spoil it for you here) and some passages seem a bit out of place or don't do much for the story, it is a well-developed tale full of descriptive power.
The passion for language -- both the author's and the protagonist's -- comes through very clearly, and it's a fantastic read for those of us who make our living by working with languages. It's great to finally read a good book about loving language, the place language occupies in our lives, how we define ourselves through language, and the liberty to perhaps choose your own native language. You can buy the book here or check if your local library carries it.