Modern Adventures in the Land of Don Quixote

One of the literary characters that are probably more well known than their creators is Don Quixote. I distinctly remember the impression that the old knight stamped on my inquisitive mind when I was in class four and read a chapter on Don Quixote fighting the windmills. It interested me so much that I went on to read the complete book then, though it was the abridged version.

After that I almost forgot about it and returned to it when I was in college when borrowed a copy from the Chandigarh State Library in the eighties, probably in 1987. I dont remember what led me to the book then, perhaps it was a passing remark from someone. But I did not read it as seriously as I should have.

It was only my subsequent interest in Latin American literature that I developed in the last 3 three years that revived my interest in Don Quixote, as I began to realize that Cervantes’ novel holds as pivotal a place in Spanish literature as Shakespeare does in English. Last year, about this time of the year in Chennai, I finally got around to read the new translation by Edith Grossman, the acclaimed translator of Garcia Marquez and some of the other Latin American writers, and to whom collectively belongs the Nobel Prize awarded to Garcia Marquez.

And I was fascinated by the novel when I read it last year. I am not sure how different this translation is compared to the older version. But the book really is fascinating- the novel has everything- action, romance, flashbacks, defeat- even victory- plots, plots within plots, novellas within the novel, characters as clear and concise as Dickens’ characters. Much has been written about the novel, and I havent read much of that, but it is a complete modern novel- it captures human actions, motivations and the passions that drive man to go out and act, it is not only the human ego, but also the fact that Quixote, like many of us, is inspired to action by books, and ideas contained therein, and these ideas could be harmful, they could be about other times and other places, there has to be human wisdom that is still required to make sense of the world and relate them to ideas and received chronicles.

There are books within the books, the books that inspire Don Quixote to ill- fated action. Despite his noble intentions, Quixote, in a way similar to and in a way, very dissimilar to another character created in the 20th century- the Good Soldier Sjevk. They are similar as the intentions of both are noble, it is dissimilar because Quixote chose to ride out to the world to rid it of its follies, while Sjevk is more or less pulled into the world to serve his ‘nation’ in a war that he had no interest in. I havent read of any comparison being drawn between these two novels, though I have a feeling that there are many points of comparisons and could be delved into more deeply.

Quixote has been contrased to another famous character, though. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the opposite of Cervantes’ hero and is the man who only thinks and never acts, or acts when it is too late. The famous essay by Harold Bloom on this theme immediately comes to mind.

But why am I writing on Don Quixote? I am writing on him as I read the novel last year, and wanted to let you know about it. Also that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the novel. And also that Don Quixote continues to inspire people more than 400 years on, specially some who inhabit the land of his original, if fictitious, adventures.


Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

3 thoughts on “Modern Adventures in the Land of Don Quixote”

  1. Ah! we share lots of common favourites! 🙂 I just adore Don Quixote. he and sancho panza are two of my favourite literary heroes ever. I have never laughed so hard when reading a book or felt so sad in the end than with this book. this book occupies a pride of place in my small library.

    one correction, I think you meant Gregory Rabassa. he was the one who translated most of the garcia marquez’s novels. I think edith grossman has traslated only a few of his novels, only his later ones.

  2. You are probably right about Grossman, I dont remember which all novels she has translated, there might be other ones besides Garcia Marquez’s that I had in mind. but I agree I should have cross checked my facts first …. though I would like to blame the indiscipline on the medium of blogs 🙂

    >Ah! we share lots of common favourites! 🙂

    I saw your site as well, and felt the same !

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