Notes on Literature: Don Quixote, Part I: First Impressions

It’s been called “The First Novel”, “An Infinite Novel” and so many other glowing and glorious things. But what struck me as most beautiful about Cervantes’s Don Quixote in Edith Grossman’s wonderful new translation is its inventiveness and narrative richness. Don Quixote is inventive in the best sense of the word. Cervantes creates a heady brew by pulling out every trick from his time-warped bag of narrative devices and mixing them up with the folk and chivalric lore of his time. In a very modern sense, the novel is also a novel of ideas. At various points in the narrative, various characters, not just the Don and his faithful squire, discuss and elaborate on a variety of topics from Romance novels and chivalry to psychology, censorship, and politics. In a similar sense, it is also a book about books: a novel that derives its essence from the existence of other books. I believe Spain’s geographical location has a lot to do with the juxtaposition of the European and the Arabian in Don Quixote. This is particularly obvious in one of the novellas within the novel: The Tale of the Captive. Also, the way in which the dazzling, the absurd, and the gross are brought together reminds one of the Arabian Nights; particularly in those episodes in which the Don expounds luxuriantly on the nonsensical and the fantastic, followed by absurdly comic events that end with violence bordering on the sadistic. So, in more ways than one, Don Quixote is a multicultural novel as well.

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