Book Review — Don Quixote

summary

How do you disentangle the period in which Don Quixote was written, it's stature as a literary classic, and all the other baggage that accompany this epic? Forget all about it and just enjoy the reading experience.

This is a posting of an old review I did (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/966839526) for this book but never published here.

How do you disentangle the period in which this book was written, it's stature as a narrative classic, and all the other baggage that accompany this epic? Forget all about it.

The story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza is nothing short of brilliant, especially when you consider that it was published in the early 1600s. While I was expecting a slow, onerous slog of a book, it flies by at a clip owing to Cervantes's knack for knowing when a particular adventure has run its course and moving the characters onto a new one. The recurrence of characters from previous episodes in the book prevents it feeling like one long collection of short stories.

The relationship between the narrator and Don Quixote adds an interesting dimension to the novel. It is evident that the writer of Don Quixote's history does not pile on praise about the knight's great deeds and is not effusive when talking about Quixote's state of mind. Further, the contrast between Quixote's naive views on knight-errantry and his thoughtful speeches on pretty much any other topic leaves the reader constantly questioning about whether his is actually mad or if he is playing one long joke that no one else quite gets.

One potential area where I was expecting more was the friendship between Quixote and Sancho Panza. Throughout the novel, it become progressively evident that Sancho Panza considers his master slightly off kilter. And while he at times tells Quixote this point blank, there never seems to be a real development along this front. It is not clear if this is intentional and is revealing of Quixote's character or if the author's enthusiasm for coming up with new tales and adventures for the pair let their actual relationship become static.

The book abounds with many tales, both large an small. One of the better ones concerns Sancho Panza's time as a mayor of an 'Island'. It is full of witty banter and comical judgments passed down by him. For example, two men, one a creditor and the other a debtor, come in to see him. The creditor wants to get his just payment for money he lent to the debtor. It is decided that whoever is holding the debtor's stick should stay silent while the other speaks the truth. Unbeknownst to all, the debtor has hidden the payment in the stick and can thus claim, while the creditor is holding the stick as he confesses, that he has already handed the payment to the creditor. Absolutely brilliant. He is then gives back his stick and would have left none the poorer if not to Sancho Panza's quick thinking.

The only real disappointing part of the book was the ending, which was rather abrupt and seemed uninspired. Perhaps it was fitting given everything else that happened and the general lampooning of stories about knighthood and chivalry. The rather benign circumstances in which the story ends provides a nice counter to heroic stories of knights charging into battle or riding into the sunset.

Overall, this book is endlessly readable. While it starts to feel a bit repetitive at times, in that it seems to be a history of the endless insanity and stupidity of Don Quixote, the different personalities that they encounter and the colourful depiction of the Spanish country-side keeps it from feeling dull.

-biafra

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