Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reading Don Quixote in Modern America

Don QuixoteDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rating the book that was written 400 years ago and is held to be the first modern novel ever written on a one to five-star criterion seems plain silly. I'm giving it five stars to satisfy the computer program but it seems irrelevant to this classic. Now we can move on.

Mind-traveling across four centuries to understand the characters of another time and world was difficult. I read "Don Quixote" in episodic form and now that I have finally finished it, I feel as if I've accomplished something. Did I like it? That's a difficult question to answer. Don Quixote was unlike anything else I've ever read. Unlike modern books that have a definite plot with a beginning, middle, and a denouement leading to the end, it lacked those elements. It read as a series of adventures, treatises on the place of fiction in society, and commentaries on the nature of art in general.

For those who have seen the musical "Man of La Mancha" and are expecting to read a similar story, the book is nothing like it. One thing that I found very interesting was the attitude that people had about madness at that time. Most people whom Don Quixote encountered were well aware of his madness. Some were sympathetic and wanted to take care of him. Others mocked him behind his back which for large parts of the book I found so annoying I almost stopped reading it. Many people were enfuriated by him. In large part, nothing has changed in the popular perception of mental illness in four centuries.

Would I recommend that others read it? If you want to challenge yourselves or increase your knowledge about the history of literature, I definitely would. I read the Edith Grossman translation copywright 2003. She did a superb job of making the language accessible and readable. If you plan to read "Don Quixote" in English, I definitely recommend this translationl.

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