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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Don Quixote

Title: Don Quixote
Author: Miguel de Cervantes
Published: 1605/1615

Did you think I'd given up? Amazingly enough, I've finally finished the first book in my ambitious list. I don't think it's ever taken me a month to read a novel. Now comes the awkward part: I'm going to attempt to write a bit about it. So here it is: a review by a non-intellectual.
I hadn't been looking forward to reading it, but from the first chapter I'd found some enthusiasm for reading Don Quixote.

A country gentleman with too much free time reads numerous romances, particularly those of knightly chivalry. He begins to believe these stories are true, and then decides to become a knight himself. He names his horse, throws together some junk to pass for a suit of armor, and calls himself Don Quixote. He rides off to find adventure and to rescue maidens, widows and orphans. While believing that his deeds are heroic, he only succeeds in making a nuisance of himself and, later on, providing others with amusement at his expense. He is so focused on following the chivalric code, that he forgets to be truly chivalrous. In one instance, he states that he's never read of a knight paying for his lodging, so he leaves an inn without paying, allowing his poor squire Sancho to suffer the punishment.

I was surprised to find this a comedy, and in the very first chapter I laughed at his determination to continue in his false reality. He spends a week making a helmet out of pasteboard. When he tests it with his sword, it is destroyed. He fixes it and refuses to test it again, instead choosing to believe that it is strong enough to protect his head.

The book I read is actually two books, published ten years apart. After the first was published and became popular, Cervantes wrote a second, continuing the adventures of Don Quixote. While he was writing it, he discovered that somebody else had written a sequel to his book. In response to this, Cervantes had Don Quixote and Sancho come across that "false history", and they lambaste the book as poorly written. Cervantes often calls attention to the writing process, as Quixote discusses the writing of the history of his heroic deeds.

I'm glad I read it. Would I read it again? Probably not. Although I found it funny and enjoyable at times, other times it became repetitive. The book does have entertainment value, but most rewarding was that it gave me a lot to think about; I barely touched the surface here. This is one of the first books I've read that caused me to want to just lie on the couch and think after finishing it. 

Edited to add: I have one word of warning, though, to anyone who decides to read this for themselves. It's surprising in a book written four hundred years ago, but just about every bodily function is mentioned in the course of the story. Most of these references are short, but if this type of thing bothers you, be warned. 


Hollie said...

It sounds like a good read to me. Your review has piqued my interest -- it's officially on my read list!

Grandma said...

We saw the musical several years back and it just isn't a book I would pick up. Glad you did though and shared with us!

Michelle said...

It sounds interesting.

Rob Ryser said...

I know I am late to the party but I really like your observation that he was so intent on being chivalrous that he forgets to be chivalrous. Seems like that could apply to a lot of circumstances in the spiritual life. Anyway I just finished Dostoevsky's "The Adolescent" and I have Don Quixote next on my list. Did the translation you read have a lot of good footnotes at the end?