Places to Go: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Reader's National Shared Reading Projects Manager, Andrew Forster, takes us on today's audio adventure and reads from Chapter X1 of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Edith Grossman, Vintage 2003. The theme for our readings in February is 'Close to the Heart' and we hope the poetry, readings and recommendations we have chosen can help us stay connected over the coming weeks.
Last March I was given a remarkable birthday gift: a trip to Northern Spain to walk part of the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James, a long-established pilgrimage route. As part of the gift there was also a large package of books that were either Spanish or set in Spain, so I could spend the next six months immersing myself in the land and culture, prior to the walk in September.
Among them was Don Quixote, in Edith Grossman’s translation, which I’d never read and was somewhat daunted by, not least by the sheer size of the thing! I needn’t have been, though, and was hooked very quickly. It’s extremely readable, being essentially a series of short adventures which just pulled me from one to the next, and it has both a beauty and strangeness that is compelling. Many of us are familiar with the character of Don Quixote if not necessarily with the book. He’s a moderately wealthy farmer who, after reading mountains of romance novels about ‘Knights errant’ who roam the countryside performing great deeds, believes himself to be a Knight errant and journeys across Spain with his ‘squire’ Sancho Panza. The strangeness of the book is in the casual cruelty of the way Don Quixote is treated. He is mercilessly lampooned and the victim of some extremely elaborate ruses designed largely for the amusement of the people he comes across. As a reader we want to stop him ourselves as he proceeds to put his foot in it over and over. Despite all this there is something wonderful about the world that he has created for himself. He has a sharp sense of justice and is always ready to defend those who he imagines to be persecuted, and this ultimately helps him transcend those who try to ridicule him.
In the passage I have chosen, Don Quixote and Sancho are resting in the company of some shepherds. There is something idyllic here. The shepherds are strangers but willingly share all they have. Don Quixote’s evocation of a golden age is, of course, a fiction, but his yearning for a simpler way of living, echoed to some extent by the generosity of the shepherds, seems, to me at least, to have parallels today when so many of us are looking for ways to reconnect with nature, especially during lockdowns.
To go back to the beginning of March and my planned walk to Spain, we all know, of course, what happened shortly afterwards. The trip had to be rescheduled and I am now keeping my fingers crossed for May this year, but though the Covid outbreak has prevented me travelling physically to Spain, I have been there through my reading. This in itself feels like a gift.