Sunday, October 16, 2005

Book Review: Don Quixote by Cervantes

Don Quixote by Cervantes is often called the first modern novel and many rate it as one of the best novels ever written in any language. That itself stirs enough interest and curiosity for a reader like me, and trust me, reading the novel is a highly rewarding and entertaining experience. The plot and sub-plots are primarily guided by Don Quixote's obsession with knight-errantly, forming acts to chivalry and participating in adventures in a manner he read in such books. Sancho serves as his squire and complements and supplements his master in every possible way. Quixote is kind at heart, his every act is inspired by a good intention, a dreamer trapped in a body that prompts him to be called the "knight of rueful countenance", a loyal lover whose never set eye on her who he so praises and desires in a chaste way! Yet he is so full of imaginary tales and characters that he lives in a make-believe world, where he mistakes windmills for monsters, herds of sheep for armies, and so on, attacks them, defends them, and Cerventes manages to weave a saga of such events in a form that identifies with allegory, fable, epic and comic drama at the same time.

Panza, on the other hand, is a fatso, ever hungry for food, wine and money, full of practical sensibility as well as easily misguided simplicity, and is as entertaining a case study as his master. To complete the cast, are two unlikely prime characters: Rocinante, who is a horse as old and shrivelled as his master and Dapple, Sancho's donkey who Sancho considers more dear to himself than anything in the world.

The novel starts at a slow pace, and with the mention of alll sorts of established names of knight-errantry that must have been vogue in those times, Cerventes builds the stage for the rise of our hero. Since I have never read any of the described references, the first fifty or so pages seemed quite obstruse to me. Like for every classic, I knew I had to read on atleast 200 pages for characters to establish themselves. Thereafter, the various escapades and misadventures described in the two books follow like eagerly waited episodes. Again this is a novel that must be read piecemeal.

Besides the humor, knight-errantry, a quixotic master and a pragmatic but simple squire, Cervantes masterfully creates a plethora of characters and situations where he writes about love, war, God, Moors, government, wife, and every conceivable thing related to man as a social being. In some ways, the book is an elegant discourse on how things are and how they could be. Even the humor laden with satire is a subtle taunt at the way good people eat humble pie when their dreamt adventures are deemed ordinary by plotting evil enchanters.

The book is full of proverbs that Sancho throws into his every sentence, so many of these are hilarious and yet all carry the wisdom of that age saved in one epic saga. Similarly, there must have been a considerable play of words, as Sancho misuses and mispronounces many words, and the translator Smollett tries hard to capture some of these.

Don Quixote, in effect, has the appeal and humor to last the humankind forever, and we bow to thee O Cervantes! for creating such a cornucopia of wisdom and instruction for us humble readers.

1 comment:

Chay said...

Eureka!! You finished it!! I found this quote by Cervantes...

"The truth lies in a man's dreams... perhaps in this unhappy world of ours whose madness is better than a foolish sanity."

Its admirable that Cervantes was in prison when he wrote it...You will find that I have been greatly influenced by don keehote!! :-D

Dulcinea.... :-)

Ps:...7 days more till khutub-shahi-korma finds an old admirer.... yay!!