Edith Grossman's definitive English translation of the Spanish masterpiece. Widely regarded as the world's first modern novel, and one of the funniest and most tragic books ever written, Don Quixote chronicles the famous picaresque adventures of the noble knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, as they travel through sixteenth-century Spain. Unless you read Spanish, you've never read Don Quixote. Though there have been many valuable English translations of Don Quixote, I would commend Edith Grossman's version for the extraordinarily high quality of her prose. The Knight and Sancho are so eloquently rendered by Grossman that the vitality of their characterization is more clearly conveyed than ever before. There is also an astonishing contextualization of Don Quixote and Sancho in Grossman's translation that I believe has not been achieved before. The spiritual atmosphere of a Spain already in steep decline can be felt throughout, thanks to her heightened quality of diction. Grossman might be called the Glenn Gould of translators, because she, too, articulates every note. Reading her amazing mode of finding equivalents in English for Cervantes's darkening vision is an entrance into a further understanding of why this great book contains within itself all the novels that have followed in its sublime wake. From the Introduction by Harold Bloom Miguel de Cervantes was born on September 29, 1547, in Alcala de Henares, Spain. At twenty-three he enlisted in the Spanish militia and in 1571 fought against the Turks in the battle of Lepanto, where a gunshot wound permanently crippled his left hand. He spent four more years at sea and then another five as a slave after being captured by Barbary pirates. Ransomed by his family, he returned to Madrid but his disability hampered him; it was in debtor's prison that he began to write Don Quixote. Cervantes wrote many other works, including poems and plays, but he remains best known as the author of Don Quixote. He died on April 23, 1616.
There would seem to be little reason for yet another translation of Don Quixote. Translated into English some 20 times since the novel appeared in two parts in 1605 and 1615, and at least five times in the last half-century, it is currently available in multiple editions (the most recent is the 1999 Norton Critical Edition translated by Burton Raffel). Yet Grossman bravely attempts a fresh rendition of the adventures of the intrepid knight Don Quixote and his humble squire Sancho Panza. As the respected translator of many of Latin America's finest writers (among them Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa), she is well suited to the task, and her translation is admirably readable and consistent while managing to retain the vigor, sly humor and colloquial playfulness of the Spanish. Erring on the side of the literal, she isn't afraid to turn out clunky sentences; what she loses in smoothness and elegance she gains in vitality. The text is free of archaisms the contemporary reader will rarely stumble over a word and the footnotes (though rather erratically supplied) are generally helpful. Her version easily bests Raffel's ambitious but eccentric and uneven effort, and though it may not immediately supplant standard translations by J.M. Cohen, Samuel Putnam and Walter Starkie, it should give them a run for their money. Against the odds, Grossman has given us an honest, robust and freshly revelatory Quixote for our times.
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April 24, 2005
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