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Where to begin?
on February 13, 2003
How do I, a literary amateur, rate a book nearly 400 years old that has been acclaimed by not a few scholarly experts as the greatest novel ever written? I feel a bit like the boy who had the temerity to point out that the emperor was naked, for I have failed to award Don Quixote five stars. Judged by modern-day standards, Cervantes could be accused of sloppiness. He confuses the chronology of his own storyline in several places, though this is as charming as it is perplexing. Seeking to satirically skewer the tales of chivalrous knights-errant popular at the time, Cervantes presents us with Quixote, a loveable madman, and his squire, Sancho Panza, who fluctuates between utter naivete and admirable sagacity throughout. The pair are nothing if not endearing. Sallying forth to right wrongs, assist the down-trodden, and punish the wicked, the two find themselves in a pragmatic and cynical world, astonished and humored by the lunatic idealism of Quixote and the simpleminded fealty of his squire.
Over the course of 5 weeks I read Don Quixote and the experience was varied. At times enthralled, at times merely mildly amused, I looked eagerly forward to resuming the book and, on occasion, half-heartedly attempted to avoid it. To be blunt, there is much in the book that borders on childlike innocence, but there is much as well that strikes a deep chord of love, idealism, perserverence, and grace. On the surface, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza could be regarded as fools. Beneath this foolishness, however, lie the hearts of lions and an unconquerable spirit which provide the ultimate reward to the reader.
The book ends abruptly and badly. After so many adventures through so many pages it was disappointing to behold the manner in which Cervantes opted to close. However, this should by no means dissuade the potential reader. Indeed, Don Quixote, for everything wonderful contained within it, should be read by all. For those who choose to do so, the Putnam translation is outstanding and footnoted with excellent detail.