Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Quixote

            Having successfully mangled my foot to such a degree that I can't work for the next week, I find that I have plenty of time to write some posts for my new blog.  Since I'm always complaining that I don't have enough time to read and write, I suppose I should be grateful?
            Yes.  Gratitude is the perspective I'll try to take.
            Well, amongst other reading, I am slowly - so, so slowly - reading through the classics.  The first on my list was Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, and it took me a mere six months to get through it.
            I shouldn't complain about the pace too much, though.  I was afraid I'd lost the patience for slow reading, and I loved every square inch of that book.  I'm going to sort of assume readers know the general premise of the book - man goes mad, decides to become a knight-errant, and embarks on all sorts of misconstrued adventures - but here are a couple of details I myself didn't know beforehand that I found very helpful.
            First of all, I had no idea that it was in fact books and reading itself which drove the man crazy.  (Incidentally, his real name is Alonso Quixano; Don Quixote is a name he gives himself.)  Books are a huge topic throughout the novel, and it is far more "meta" than much more modern literature:  "As for Don Quixote, he leaned against a beech or cork tree; for, Cid Hamet Benengeli [our supposed narrator] has not distinguished the genus," (p. 1052, Modern Library, 2001 paperback edition).  Books, their narrations and unreliabilities, are at the center of Quixote's madness.
            The second detail I hadn't realized was that knight-errantry was already quite old-fashioned by the time Quixano decided to join its gallant ranks.  Somehow Cervantes' Spain, being chronologically closer to the time of knights-errant, seemed also culturally closer.  But in fact, the knights-errant were already a thing of the past, and largely a thing of fantasy novels.
            It's a long book.  Mine is just over 1,000 pages.  But I really, really wish I could get everyone I know to read it.  It was such a reading pleasure, and far easier to get through (and funnier!) than I'd expected.  I got lost in it, and it sort of became part of my life, the way books did when I was a kid.  The way Elizabeth Bennett, and Lucy and Aslan, and Juliet Capulet became friends when I read about them.  I'm not sure why some books are able to do this, and others remain simply stories, but Quixote and Sancho feel like old friends now; and for that (as well as my broken/sliced-up foot), I'm grateful.

1 comment:

  1. This makes me smile so much. I love Don Q, have embraced him and reimagined him time and again. Thank you for pointing out the common misperception, that people think he was a knight in the time of knights, and perhaps just crazy and incompetent at the profession. But he was driven insane by the bad novels of chivalry of his time, and looked all the crazier for trying to be knight at all.

    I read the Edith Grossman translation, and liked it quite a lot. I find I "audition" translations of great novels written not in English these days by reading the first page or two and seeing how it feels. If the prose has music, I'm happy. If it sounds stilted and academic, like they were just trying to get accurate meanings of individual words, that's a deal-killer.

    Thank you for spreading the gospel of Cervantes among your friends. The world will be better for it.