This week I am reviewing Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, the translation by Tobias Smollett. Don Quixote is a popular classic, with many accomplishments in the literary world, from being considered the first literary novel and being the most sold book in the world. There is a lot to talk about when it comes to this book review.
With that said, this is a spoiler-free review as always, I hope you enjoy!
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A Short Summary
The story follows the self-proclaimed knight, Don Quixote. Don Quixote is the name chosen by a hidalgo called Quixada, although this doesn’t matter much, because he is referred to as Don Quixote throughout the book.
With that said, Don Quixote lives a leisurely life, being a noble in the countryside with not much to do except read books. His books of choice happened to be the stories of famous knights, many, if not all, are complete fiction or massively embellished stories that go as far as to inspire Don Quixote to become a knight and roam the countryside in search of evil to vanquish. He dons armour, mounts his skinny horse, Rozinante, and rides out into the hot Spanish countryside with his neighbour and squire, Sancho Panza.
Naturally, from this description, you see that Don Quixote is as mad as a brush.
Throughout the story, Don Quixote goes on many adventures, fighting figments of his imagination and other illusions of his ailing mind. All of this can be blamed on the madness between his ears, the heat of the sun, the fasting he often does or the several knocks to the noggin that he often receives.
I’ve read both volumes of Don Quixote.
The first volume is an amusing collection of stories following Don Quixote’s adventures. There is not much I can say about the first volume without spoiling some of these stories, but I will say that it is an enjoyable read, the stories have their dramatic moments which make them all the more charming.
The first volume of Don Quixote did so well when it was published in the 1700s that people were begging for more. Someone actually published a sequel, but it was not written by Miguel, who upon seeing that someone was trying to take advantage of his great novel, went off to write the second volume.
To everyone's amusement, the second volume starts with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza finding the false sequel to their adventures. The volume becomes a more surreal series of adventures, where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza look closely at their adventures and what they are doing.
There are still plenty of moments that make the second volume a fun satire.
The Don Quixote book is filled with characters, from those that would help Don Quixote to those that would seek to do him harm. Many characters are real and others are complete figments of his imagination. To talk about one is to talk about another and another, so I will only cover the duo that is Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
As I said earlier, Don Quixote is a middle-aged noble, nearing fifty years of age, who starts his journey with a head filled with adventure. While his character does develop somewhat throughout the story, he starts as a madman, an idealist and a quick-to-action individual.
When met with a problem, Don Quixote will often make a decision that he feels is most noble, but is often foolish. He will stand by that decision and if it prevails, he will walk away proud, but if it fails, he will either be greatly saddened or go into absolute denial of what happened.
From this, you will come to know Don Quixote as a good man, but often misled by his madness or his gullible nature.
In stark contrast to the clean and noble Don Quixote, we have his squire, Sancho Panza.
Sancho Panza is far from an idealist, being a more down-to-earth individual who wants to come out of every situation alive and perhaps, with something to show for it; preferably money. Sancho is a simple peasant who looks up to Don Quixote, although the two often clash, most of the time they are there for each other.
Sancho is the voice of reason in this story, trying his best to persuade Don Quixote that what he sometimes sees is not reality. Other times, he is there to keenly encourage Don Quixote if it benefits him. While he is selfish and greedy, Sancho does care about his master and follows him into most adventures.
Sancho is also a great comic relief in many more dramatic situations. One might say that Sancho is as half as mad as Don Quixote or twice as stupid, as he makes his own mistakes and wanders into his own silly situations much like his master.
The writing style for Don Quixote isn’t easy to review, as I am reading the English translation. With that said, there are some core elements of the style I can comment on in regards to Miguel de Cervantes writing and some in regards to Tobias Smollett’s translation.
First, the book itself reads as a retelling of a fictional history that was created around the story that is Don Quixote. Imagine, if you will, that some historians and writers recorded the adventures of Don Quixote, these records were found and pieced together to make the story that is Don Quixote.
Thus, the book is written in the third person and all the better for it, as it is a fantastic tale. It evokes more wonder when written in the third person.
Next, Don Quixote was written in the early 17th century, which means you can expect wonderfully long monologues, which often add to the comedy of some scenes or add to the drama of others.
Now, I have also read many compliments on Smollett’s translation of Don Quixote. As I have not read any other translations, I will include the quote here:
“Cervantes’s masterpiece is lucky to have found so perfect a translator as the flamboyant Smollett. The rambunctious personalities of author and translator are ideally matched.” - Salman Rushdie
From what I read, I would have to agree that the story and the translation suit each other quite well. If one did not know that the story was written by someone else and in another language, one could easily assume that the translation was the original. Yet, the genius of Miguel de Cervantes shines through as I hope it does in all the other translations into other languages.
My Thoughts on Don Quixote
After finishing Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, I decided to tackle a classic that I’ve always wanted to start. When I started, I was faced with the verbose amounts of verbiage that were commonplace in literature hundreds of years ago. Yet, I found myself thoroughly absorbed by the character that was Don Quixote and the noble quests he went on.
The only anxiety I held about the book at the beginning was the worry that I might not be able to finish it in time for a book review two weeks later. Yet, when you find a book that grips you so strongly, time is not a problem and I read Don Quixote whenever I had the time to do so.
I won’t lie, the several two-hour blackouts I experienced over the past two weeks helped as well.
By the end of the book, I felt empty and full. I was there with Don Quixote, experiencing his adventures with him like a second squire. Although, a quiet and unimportant one that didn’t really do too much other than stifle a laugh or smile happily when pleasant stories were told or conversation made.
I loved reading the book, which is a strong word to use, but I feel it is most fitting. It was wonderful, from beginning to end. The fact that it did so well and that it is the most sold book in the world makes me very happy. Although like most classical authors, Miguel de Cervantes did not die rich, however, his book stands the test of time and I’m sure it will continue to do so.
What conclusion can a writer write other than to say that Don Quixote is a classic most deserving of the title?
If you want to read a strange, funny, heart-warming and ultimately brilliant story of knights and windmills, then I recommend you read Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.
Good day, goodnight and happy reading!