Friday, October 07, 2005

Golden Pages

"Don Quixote is the book you must read before you die"
Ben Okri

Don Quixote
by Miguel de Cervantes
Concerning the famous hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha's position, character and way of life
In a village in La Mancha, the name of which I cannot quire recall, there lived not long ago one of those country gentlemen or hidalgos who keep a lance in a rack, an ancient leather shield, a scrawny hack and a greyhound for coursing. A midday stew with rather more shin of beef than leg of lamb, the leftovers for supper most nights, lardy eggs on Saturdays, lentil broth on Fridays and an occasional pigeon as a Sunday treat ate up three-quarters of his income. The rest went on a cape of black broadcloth, with breeches of velvet and slippers to match for holy days, and on weekdays he walked proudly in the finest homespun. He maintained a housekeeper the wrong side of forty, a niece the right side of twenty and a jack of all traders who was a good at saddling the nag as at plying the pruning shears. Our hidalgo himself was nearly fifty; he had a robust constitution, dried-up flesh and whitered face, and he was an early riser and a keen huntsman. His surname's said to have been Quixada or Quesada (as if he were a jawbone, or a cheesecake): concerning this detail there's some discrepancy among the authors who have written on the subject, although a credible conjecture does suggest he might have been a plaintive Quexana. But this doesn't matter much, as far as our little tale's concerned, provided that the narrator doesn't stray one inch from the truth. (...)
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the son of a poor Spanish surgeon, was almost certainly born in 1547. He served in Italy in 1570, and as a regular soldier he fought in the naval battle of Lepanto and other engagements, until he was captured by pirates while returning to Spain in 1575 and taken to be slave of a renegade Greek in Algiers; he attempted unsuccessfully to escape several times, and was finally ransomed in 1580. For the rest of his life he was preoccupied with the difficulties of making a living, and spent two periods in prison. He had already written some plays and a pastoral novel, La Galatea, when in 1592 he offered to write six plays at fifty ducats apiece. He had no success until 1605, when the publication of the first part of Don Quixote brought him immediate popularity. The Exemplary Stories were published as a collection in 1613, and in 1615 appeared the promised continuation of Don Quixote. Cervantes died, as Shakespeare, in 1616.

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