Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes
Edith Grossman
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Don Quixote. Yea. Don Quixote. It’s been on the reading list a long time. But not always. Despite how famous Don Quixote is — a pillar of western literature and the first modern novel — I kept putting off reading it. I think it was because I had to read a part of it in Spanish when I was in school. And Spanish class was like a little taste of hell in the purgatory of high school.

Don Quixote reentered my sphere of consciousness in 2005, on the 500th anniversary of it’s publication. It took a few more years for me to get around to buying it in 2007. Then it sat around for over a year, staring at me every time I walked by the bookshelf. Then, once I did get started, I was reading it for almost two years. I started reading it in 2008 when I took time off for my daughters birth. And I just finished the last 200 pages on a 30 hour air trip to the US. I wonder how long it would have been if I didn’t have to make such a long trip?

I enjoyed Don Quixote despite the long struggle to actually get it read. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, his squire, are memorable characters. Over all the story is good, it’s just not something I can read quickly, at least not if I want to actually understand what it is I’m reading. The language doesn’t flow, I suspect a lot of that has to do with being translated and written in a colloquial form from a time half a millennium ago. There were a lot of footnotes about changing meanings and wordplay in the original that doesn’t translate.

On thing that put me off early on in reading was the windmill scene. Everybody knows about the windmills; it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Don Quixote. But then, the whole episode is about a page, and it’s really early on in the story. It’s like the having the climax of the novel at the beginning of the story.

But after a long struggle to get through the later half of the first part the story picked up again. The second part, where Don Quixote‘s fame becomes the main foil, as people start to play with is madness and Sancho’s gullibility, was more fun to read than most of the first part. If Cervantes was prompted into writing the second part because of the less-than-good “false Quixote” that someone else published after the first part proved successful, then the author of the false Quixote did the world a favor. I doubt Don Quixote would be half as famous if it stopped at the end of the second sally. The third sally, which comprises the second part, is the best. Except for maybe the windmills.