Thursday, February 26, 2009
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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