BOOK REVIEW: DON QUIXOTE by Miguel De Cervantes


Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    DON QUIXOTE. The ingenious Gentlemen Sir Quixote of La Mancha, or just Don Quixote is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. Published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, such as the Bokklubben World Library collection that cites Don Quixote as the authors’ choice for the “best literary work ever written.”

    The story follows the adventures of a noble hidalgo (which means a gentleman in Spanish) named Alonso Quixano who reads so many of these chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to become a knight errant a medieval knight (relating to middle ages) wandering in search of chivalrous adventures  (caballero andante), reviving chivalry and serving his country, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire an attendant, who often employs a unique, earthy or crude wit in dealing with Don Quixote’s rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood. Don Quixote, in the first part of the book, does not see the world for what it is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly or a chivalrous story.

    The work opens in the village of La Mancha, Spain, where a country gentleman’s infatuation with books of chivalry leads him to decide to become a knight-errant, and he assumes the name Don Quixote. He finds an antique suit of armour and attaches a visor made of pasteboard to an old helmet. He then declares that his old irritant nag is the noble horse steed Rocinante. According to Don Quixote, a knight-errant also needs a lady to love, and so he selects a peasant girl from a nearby town, christening her as Dulcinea Del Toboso. Thus clothed accoutred, and heads out to perform deeds of heroism in her name. He arrives at an inn, which he believes is a castle, and insists that the innkeeper knight him or you could say honour him. After being told that he must carry money and extra clothes, Don Quixote decides to go home. But on his way, he picks up a fight with a group of merchants, and they beat him up. When he recovers, he persuades the peasant Sancho Panza to act as his squire with the promise that Sancho will one day get an island to rule.

    Don Quixote and Sancho, mounted on a donkey, set out. In their first adventure, Don Quixote mistakes a field of windmills for giants and attempts to fight them but finally concludes that a magician must have turned the giants into windmills. He later attacks a group of monks, thinking that they have imprisoned a princess, and also battles with a herd of sheep, among other adventures, almost all of which end with Don Quixote, Sancho, or both being beaten up. Eventually, Don Quixote acquires a metal washbasin from a barber, which he believes is a helmet once worn by a famous knight, and he later frees a group of convicted criminals.

     Don Quixote subsequently encounters Cardenio, who lives like a wild man in the woods because he believes that Luscinda, the woman he loves, betrayed him. Don Quixote decides to emulate him to prove his great love for Dulcinea, and he sends Sancho to deliver a letter to her. When Sancho stops at an inn, he finds two of Don Quixote’s old friends, a priest and a barber, looking for him. They decide that one of them should pose as a young damsel in distress to try to lure Don Quixote home. En route, they come across a young woman, Dorotea, who was betrayed by Don Fernando, who married Luscinda. Dorotea agrees to pretend to be a princess whose kingdom has been seized by a giant, and Don Quixote is persuaded to help her. They stop at the inn, where Don Fernando and Luscinda soon arrive. Where, Luscinda is reunited with Cardenio, and Don Fernando promises to marry Dorotea. Later, the priest and the barber put Don Quixote in a wooden cage and persuade him that he is under an enchantment that will take him to Dulcinea. Eventually, they return him home. And, finally all these couples are hooked.

    Part 2 begins a month after the end of part 1, but many of the characters have already read that book and so know about Don Quixote. He is convinced that Dulcinea is under an enchantment that has turned her into an ordinary peasant girl. Don Quixote and Sancho meet a duke and duchess who are prone to pranks. In one such ruse, they persuade the two men that Sancho must give himself 3,300 lashes to break the curse on Dulcinea. The duke later makes Sancho the governor of a town that he tells Sancho is the isle of Barataria? There Sancho is presented with various disputes, and he shows wisdom in his decisions. However, after a week in office and being subjected to other pranks, he decides to give up the governorship. In the meantime, the duke and the duchess play other tricks on Don Quixote.

    Eventually, Don Quixote and Sancho leave, after learning that a false sequel to the book about him says that he travelled to Zaragoza, a place in Spain Don Quixote decides to avoid that city and instead go to Barcelona. Following various adventures there, Don Quixote is challenged by the Knight of the White Moon there (who happens to be a student from La Mancha in disguise), and he is defeated. According to the terms of the battle, Don Quixote is now required to return home. Along the way, Sancho pretends to administer the required lashings to himself, and they meet a character from the false sequel. After they arrive home, Don Quixote falls ill, renounces chivalry as foolish fiction, and dies.

    Cervantes’s strikingly modern narrative gives voice to a dazzling assortment of characters with diverse beliefs and perspectives, and it exhibits a nuanced irony, a humanistic outlook, and a pronounced comic edge. The popularity of the first volume led to the publication in 1614 of a spurious sequel by someone calling himself Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda, a circumstance that Cervantes addressed in his own second volume.

    Overall it’s a very lengthy read around 750 pages. Considering the times we are living in. When the attention span has really shortened and diversions have mushroomed around books, one can say it’s extremely lengthy. I would give the book eight out of ten. And yes, if you have the time do immerse yourself in it.

By Kamlesh Tripathi



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