Thursday, February 26, 2009

Don Quixote

de Cervantes, Miguel. 1605, 1615. (Modern Library Edition, 1998). Don Quixote. Translated by Samuel Putnam. 1240 pages.

"In a village of La Mancha the name of which I have no desire to recall, there lived not so long ago one of those gentlemen who always have a lance in the rack, an ancient buckler, a skinny nag, and a grey-hound for the chase."

Why should you? Why did I? I've wanted to read Don Quixote since taking a World Literature class my sophomore year in college. My professor had us read several excerpts from the novel, and he also showed clips from the musical film, Man A La Mancha. Perhaps in part won over by "The Impossible Dream," this one made my wish list then and there. But despite one or two failed attempts, it wasn't until this year--around the first of January--that I picked it up in earnest. The book, to put it concisely, is about the wondering of a madman--some whom consider him to be charmingly so--and a poor peasant who leaves his home (including his wife and children) to follow him, to be his squire. Don Quixote, the mad knight-errant, is fixed on one purpose: he wants to change the world, right all the wrongs, protect the weak, serve those who need him most. Sancho Panzo, his squire, is one of the most interesting characters I've ever met; one never quite knowing who is more foolish. Is Panzo aware of how foolish and crazy Quixote is? If he is, why does he follow him? If he's not, wouldn't that make him the greater fool of the two? At times Panzo seems to be in touch with reality, at other times not so much. But there is half the fun, the reader can and must decide for himself/herself what this all means. I loved Panzo because he's always good for a laugh.

Did it live up to my expectations? Was it everything I wanted it to be? Yes. And then some. I expected it to be a bit on the absurd side, a bit over the top. A book that explores the fine line--and not so fine lines at times--between sanity and insanity, wisdom and folly. But what I didn't expect was the humor. I didn't expect the book to be as entertaining as it was. Yes, it was long. Yes, it was winding, The narrative--the plot was not straightforward, it did not seek to go from point A to point B via the quickest route. It wasn't the destination, it was the journey itself. It was the characters that Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza, met along the way. The men and women along the way --both friend and foe--who contribute to this masterpiece. The men who seek to fight him, the damsels-in-distress who seek his help. The men and women--rich and poor--who seek to make a fool of him in one way or another. Who make him the butt of all their jokes.

The cast of Don Quixote is large and quite diverse. There are not a mere dozen of players; no, there are hundreds of characters introduced and explored within its pages. You might think that this would weigh the book down. But, and this is just my opinion, it is quite the opposite. These stories, these asides, these novellas add depth and substance. If you look at the novel as a canvas upon which Miguel De Cervantes explored humanity--its strengths, its weaknesses, its folly, its wisdom. There is much about living, of life, of love and jealousy. I must have marked a hundred or so passages in the book.

I am amazed quite honestly at the genius of his storytelling. Don Quixote may be seeking adventures and glory and honor. Sancho Panzo may be seeking authority and power--his desire to be made governor of an island or two, but what they find more often than not are stories.

Life on the road with Quixote and Panzo may not be easy--full of bumps, bruises, close calls, and above all hunger--but it's never boring!

Why should you read it? I won't be so foolish as to argue that every "you" should. One book can't be for everyone after all. But I'll tell you what this book has going for it...remarkable characterizations--some truly complex characters come to life in its pages; great dialogue, some of the exchanges especially those between Quixote and Panza are great fun; good storytelling, interesting and unique adventures; it explores humanity--the good, the bad, the ugly, the greatest joys and sorrows; humor, humor, and more humor! Some of these episodes are laugh-out-loud funny.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Anonymous,  7:23 PM  

1240 pages? Wow! Don't you feel so accomplished?

Sandra 7:32 PM  

I do love a doorstopper to read but I found this story unreadable. I didn't get far but I tried it twice. I'm glad you enjoyed it and you make some fine points in your review. I wonder what sort of mood I should wait for to try again.
I just read and enjoyed a tome published in 1974 by Ann Radcliffe so it's not that I mind older works or older language. I just can't take this poor schnook serious. Glad you reviewed it (you ARE doing the chunkster challenge I hope :), and maybe I'll try again one day.

Sandra 7:33 PM  

I beg your pardon-that book was published in 1794, The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Rebecca Reid 7:40 PM  

Oh I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

"It wasn't the destination, it was the journey itself."

I find that many very long books (Les Mis, Count of Monte Cristo) are like that. They are something to savor.

Did you compare Putnam's translation with any others? I'm just curious.

Becky 7:57 PM  

Sandra, I know it's not for everyone. It *may* be a timing thing. I'd tried twice before as well. What helped in making the third time the charm, for me, is that I had a nice edition--hardback, nice big font, great spine that allowed you to really get comfortable with the book. It also helped that I wasn't in a hurry to get through this one. It was a slow-and-steady approach. My goal--if anything--was to read 75 to 100 pages a week. Sometimes I met it, sometimes I didn't. My philosophy is though that you shouldn't ever force yourself to read something you're not into. :)

Rebecca: I did enjoy it! I found much to savor! I didn't compare translations. I read Amazon reviews for several different translations, but decided to go with Putnam because it was the Modern Library edition and one Amazon reviewer in particular raved about how wonderful this edition was.

Shelley 8:00 PM  

I pretty accepting of most books even if they're really long or have archaic language, but I had a really hard time with this one. I quit in the middle. Maybe it was the lack of direction. I do remember it being funny, though. Congrats on finishing!

Anonymous,  10:39 PM  

I've alway intended to read this book - now you've actually made me want to read it - thanks! L

myza 6:08 AM  

I never even had this book on my To Be Read list...but after reading your review it is now on the list! I love great storytelling so I am very excited!

Debi 8:22 AM  

I have to admit that I doubt I'll be tackling this one. At least not anytime soon. Not until I can manage to find chunks of time longer than 10 minutes at a shot for reading anyway. But I have to say, Becky, that you very much made me WANT to read it!

Unknown 8:22 AM  

I attempted this once in high school, and gave up because of its sheer size. But it sounds a lot like Count of Monte Cristo -- huge, long, but ultimately very entertaining and satisfying. I'll have to give it a second thought.

Oh, and I love Man of La Mancha. Impossible Dream was my dad's favorite song, and we'd listen to the record over and over again. I finally got to see the musical about 15 years ago in Salt Lake City, and it was as fabulous as I had always dreamed it would be.

Anna 1:28 PM  

When I took honors Spanish my senior year of high school, our teacher made us translate parts of this book into English. I've never read the whole thing, but the parts I did read were enjoyable. Maybe someday I'll have a chance to read it all. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

Diary of an Eccentric

hopeinbrazil 5:23 AM  

Great review, Becky! This is a book I knew I should read, but didn't think I'd enjoy. Thanks for changing my mind.

Em 12:10 PM  

Hi Becky I am so glad you have reviewed this book. I have always wanted to read it ever since hearing about it in my Spanish class. If you want to read any of my reviews ( I would really appreciate it. I think I will buy this book now :D

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