If you write books, you get letters from readers. Some readers even send
you gifts. This is always very touching. Authors are grateful just to be
read; when a reader goes out of his way to make some further gesture of
appreciation, we swoon with gratitude and joy. I do, anyway. Even within
this joy-inducing category of events, though, there are some that stand out.
One such just happened to me.
The UPS man just pulled up outside and left a long box on my doorstep. I
took it in and opened it up. Inside was a bottle of Tokaji Furmint wine,
with a label mostly in Hungarian, and a letter. Now, I am a mild
Hungarophile, and have blogged to that effect
http://www.nationalreview.com/derbyshire/derbyshire043003.asp (search on
“goulash”). There are also some Hungarians in my book Prime Obsession
, and a note on the
extraordinary number of good Hungarian mathematicians (Endnote 64). In that
note I listed the names of some famous Hungarian mathematicians. Hungarian
spelling is a nightmare–they have TWO DIFFERENT umlauts–and I checked with
a Hungarian friend (Paul Hollander the historian) to see if I had got these
Well, the letter that came with my lunchtime package today was from a
Hungarian reader of my book, and it moved me nearly to tears. Here is the
body of the letter, slightly modified so as not to give any identities away.
I shall be writing to the sender personally, of course, and enjoying the
wine–which has a lovely honey color to it–with my Christmas dinner.
“Dear Mr. Derbyshire—Your spelling of those Hungarian names and the short
story are correct. I was happy to find Professor Kurschak’s name on the
list, who was my teacher at the Joseph Nador Technical University in
Budapest. Also the name Polya brings back the memory of my youth, the
family was well known for a number of intellectuals, they also produced at
least one beautiful girl, her name was “Gogo,” I used to dance with her at
social occasions 70 years ago!
“Frankly I don’t know the cause why so many mathematicians come from such a
small country, but I suspect the culprit is the Hungarian wine. So I am
sending you a sample direct from Budapest, not available outside of Hungary.
Please enjoy it.
“Wishing you and your family Happy Holidays,
“With best regards, [Name]
“P.S. The Furmint is dry, should be served very cold.”