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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

Don Quixote

Don Quixote - Roberto González Echevarría, John Rutherford, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra I “audio-read” this book for about two months on my one hour daily commutes to work. It made the journeys very pleasant and I barely notice the dull sceneries as they go by. The journey of Don Quixote and his trusty squire Sancho Panza is much more vivid and enjoyable.

I had my doubts about the basic premise of this book. A crazy old guy with a Buzz Lightyear-like delusion travels through Spain with a peasant sidekick. How did the author manage to fill a thousand or so pages with that? Would the joke not have worn thin to the point of implosion by the end of the book? Ironically these doubts attract me toward the book rather than repel me. Not being a cat I quite like indulging my curiosity.

The book got off to a rocky start for me with a bunch of sonnets in the first chapter which nearly unmanned me and send me running, but once I am done with them it was pretty much plain sailing all the way. A two months voyage if you will. While reading the first five or so chapters I did get the feeling that the story is rather repetitious, basically just one misadventure after another. Don Q travelling across the land, making a public nuisance of himself, and Sancho going along in the hope of financial gains. However, as I read on these characters do come alive and begin to seem like old friends, to the extent that I was quite happy just to tag along and see what nonsense they get up to. The basic routine seems to be that the duo travel along with no set destination, come across some people minding their own business, and half the time mistaking them for enemies, giants or wizards, start messing with them and consequently get their asses kicked. I expected to be tired of such shenanigan well before the end of the book but the author seems well aware of this possibility and switches gear with the narrative as the story progress. Most chapters tend to be episodic with several “side stories” interspersed into the main adventure of our heroes. There is even a fairly lengthy novella entitled: “The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious” which is kind of silly yet thought provoking. Various colorful characters enter and leave the novel providing needed variation from just Don Q and his antics.

The novel’s greatest strength for me is the character development. Don Quixote is not like any lunatic I have ever seen or heard about. While his insanity is relentless it also seems to be oddly systematic or deliberate. He can speak eloquently and sensibly about all kinds of things until he or somebody else shoehorns in the subject of knight errantry then his dementia comes into full display. Sancho Panza, the Robin to his Batty Man, is no less anomalous. His IQ seems to fluctuate with no discernible pattern, plus he is a proverbs machine, with none of the proverbs ever suited to the occasion.

This novel is divided into two parts and I find “Part II” (originally published ten years after Part I) even funnier and more entertaining than Part I. In this second volume Don Quixote and Sancho have become legends in their own lunchtime as “Volume I” is published and become something of a best seller. Consequently many of the new characters that are introduced in this part of the book know immediately who they are and often help to facilitate their madness just for kicks. Much hilarity ensues.

Toward the end I did feel that the book is rather overwritten and I imagined that the job of abridging this book probably is not all that hard as it seems fairly obvious which chapters could easy being jettisoned. However, once I arrived at the poignant final chapter felt a feeling of regret that I have to leave these two crazy buggers now. Looks like a reread in printed format is in order. May be I will read it in the Batcave.

Note: This audiobook version is translated by Edith Grossman and read amazingly well by George Guidall.