Saturday, June 12, 2010

Don Quixote, by Miguel De Cervantes

Don Quixote, by Miguel De Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes is said to be the father of the modern novel, and after reading Don Quixote it is easy to see why. Set in the 17th century with an insane man as the hero and a buffoon for a sidekick, this easily could have been a dated and predictable (from our modern point-of-view anyway) book, but instead I found it engaging and exciting from cover to cover. Don Quixote thinks he is the last knight errant and roams the countryside looking for adventure and injustice; unfortunately for him he is met with ridicule and scorn virtually everywhere. While there are a few actual “quests” (attacking windmills being the most famous) most of the novel describes the elaborate practical jokes of which Quixote and Sancho Panza are the butt.

I was surprised at not only how funny this was, but how the humor holds up over the years. Monty Python would be proud of the physical humor here: “Sancho came so close that his eyes were almost in his master’s mouth; by this time the balm had taken effect in Don Quixote’s stomach, and just as Sancho looked into his mouth, he threw up, more vigorously than if he were firing a musket, everything he had inside, and all of it hit the compassionate squire in the face.” Apparently, vomit is a timeless comedic prop! One of the best stories related is about a man who convinces his best friend to attempt to seduce his wife in order to prove her love; his unintentionally humorous justification for this is, “Why be grateful when a woman is good if no one urges her to be bad?”

The odd pacing is a large indication this was written 400 years ago—at times there is a chapter break in the middle of a sentence!—but Edith Grossman’s translation is fantastic and allows the reader to immerse oneself in the story without getting lost in the physical structure of the novel. I quite enjoy the musical Man of La Mancha which is based on this book, but the novel is far superior.

First Sentence:
Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.

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