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on March 22, 2005
Edith Grossman's is the hot new translation, but there may be a tendency to confer too much praise on a fresh reading. From what I have sampled, I have no doubt of Grossman's excellence, but this is not the "definitive" DQ (no one's is), and frankly, after some comparison of the early chapters, I've decided to spend my time with Burton Raffel's translation, now only a decade old. Raffel sometimes opts for a colloquial word or two, but it's never jarring, and his overall style seems not only less pretentious to me than Grossman's, but a superior combination of a modern reading with a traditional "tone." Tone and style are important, and Raffel sometimes makes Grossman seem too abstract or fussy, though this is difficult to describe. Raffel's phrasing is more focused and vigorous than Grossman's--though both are said to be accurate. Let me offer a couple of examples that shifted me toward Raffel:


"Some claim that his family name was Quixada, or Quexada, for there is a certain amount of disagreement among the authors who write of this matter, although reliable conjecture seems to indicate that his name was Quexana. But this does not matter very much to our story; in its telling there is absolutely no deviation from the truth."


"It's said his family name was Quijada, or maybe Quesada: there's some disagreement among the writers who've discussed the matter. But more than likely his name was really Quejana. Not that this makes much difference in our story; it's just important to tell things as faithfully as you can."

(Notice how Raffel makes immediately clear in the last sentence what Grossman so literally translates.)


"His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books, enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, wounds, courtings, loves, torments, and other impossible foolishness, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer. He would say that El Cid Ruy Diaz had been a very good knight but could not compare to Amadis, the Knight of the Blazing Sword, who with a single backstroke cut two ferocious and colossal giants in half."


"He filled his imagination full to bursting with everything he read in his books, from witchcraft to duels, battles, challenges, wounds, flirtations, love affairs, anguish, and impossible foolishness, packing it all so firmly into his head that these sensational schemes and dreams became the literal truth and, as far as he was concerned, there were no more certain histories anywhere on earth. He'd explain that Cid Ruy Diaz had been a very good knight, but simply couldn't be compared to the Knight of the Flaming Sword, who with one backhand stroke had cut in half two huge, fierce giants."

Notice that Grossman is rather fussy-sounding in the phrase: "countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer." Compare with Raffel, who always seems to solve little problems like this with charm, precision, and even a little wry swagger that's so appropriate to Cervantes' intent. So my advice is to seek out both of these new translations and spend a little time with each before deciding. Don't take others' opinions that Grossman's has superseded Raffel's. Grossman avoids some of the more colloquial English one may find in Raffel, and this may please snobs, but the accuracy of Raffel's translation is not in question, and overall he seems to me to have done the best job.
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on November 3, 2003
Faulkner said Don Quixote was his favorite book and that, along with The Bible, he dipped into it yearly. I'm not sure what Cervantes would have made of some of Faulkner's more troublesome work, but the world has designated Don Quixote the Father of the Modern Novel and perhaps the greatest novel ever. I'm a fan of this book and a habitual (some would say neurotic) comparer of translations. Since I don't read of speak Spanish, I have to rely on the English translations that have been published. There are three that are worthwhile: Ormsby's, Samuel Putnam's and now Edith Grossman's. Grossman, who is the translator of Garcia Marquez's books into English, has produced a translation that's contemporary and authentic--somehow, not an oxymoron. It has a fresher feel than Putnam's (the translation Nabokov used when teaching the book), though I wouldn't say it supplants Putnam. If you're looking for a copy of Don Quixote in English, Grossman's translation is a good first choice. She manages to maintain the feel of the language Cervantes wrote in (as far as I can tell) yet her translation, as the NY Times reviewer noted, is as readable as the latest novel from Philip Roth. You can't go wrong with Putnam or Grossman, but on this one, I have to give the nod to Grossman.
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on November 2, 2003
I have read this book both in English and Spanish, and I can honestly say that it loses very little of its power, wit or message in translation. For all those who have considered reading this book, here are a few good reasons: this book is a very nuanced look at escapism and identity, a wonderful parody of knight stories, along with being a rousing (and very funny) adventure centering around the titular hero, a man who reads one too many books about knighthood and chivalry and decides to become a knight-errant himself. After recruiting a sidekick and choosing a lady to woo per narrative convention, he sets out to conquer the forces of evil, which include, among other things, giant windmills and rogue "knights". Cervantes' insight and ability to parody were both ahead of his time, and in a time where escapism and voyeurism are well and thriving, it is not difficult to imagine someone watching too many TV shows and believing they're a wild west outlaw or what-have-you. A very fascinating experience, and it works well in any language. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon January 21, 2003
Note: seems to have a hard time linking reviews to specific editions - it makes a difference. This review is of the Modern Library edition, ISBN-0679602860, translated by Samuel Putnam. I am reposting it, hoping it will link correctly this time).
When you approach reading (or rereading) a "classic" work you really, mostly, don't have to think about whether to read it -- that decision was either made by someone assigning it to you or, more wonderfully, by you, yourself deciding to swim contra-current against the cultural waters... following Neil Young's advice to "turn off that MTV."
So. You are going to read it. And, if you are paddling the, here, you are going to buy and OWN it. The question really becomes which edition you should own.
This is the one.
Its a fine translation - surprising in its avoidance of archaic language. It has a nice structure - the inevitable notes are available but not obtrusive.
This edition, the Modern Library hardback edition, translated by Putnam, is also a nice book to own. It isn't one of those pretty faux-leather "shelf-candy" copies that'll break your wallet first. This is a hardworking book - the essence of the Modern Library idea. But it is a wonderful packaging of the whole 1000+ pages that is both readable and shelvable. No thousand-page paperback will survive an actual reading as anything you would want excepting as backup next to the latrine.
Did I mention that it is a great book, great story? Well, others over the years have managed that :-). But I will loudly agree. I'm rereading it only now after a 35 year hiatus (yes, indeed, classics can be lost on the young - thats why you want books that last. In 35 more years, when you turn your lance back toward targets you thought you left behind, a copy will cost you [a lot of money]). It is just plain startling in its innovations and story. I always thought Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepard were the first to break down that "third wall" and talk to the audience - yet here is Cervantes doing so five centuries back ! Wow.
Even if you've been made to buy it and to read it, buy a nice copy. Read the "Cliff notes" if you must, but someday you'll be a crazy old coot like Don Q. (or me) and want to toss something more meaningful than Palahniuk (or even Rushdie) at the cobwebs that cling.
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on March 10, 2000
I was assigned to read this book this year in my senior Humanities class. We were not expected to read every chapter, but once I started, I couldn't dream of skipping anything. Don Quixote, Book 1, tells the story of a man more optimistic and idealistic than any other in literature. He sets out as a "righter of wrongs and injustices" and doesn't let anything stand in his way. Book one is also incredibly funny in many parts, both physically and intellectually. Book 2, although a somewhat difficult read and much less humorous, is by far the better work of art. At first, I was apalled at the ending of the book, but I now feel that Cervantes was justified in his ending because he wanted us to mourn the absence of chivalry and hope in our world. I cannot express how much perspective this book will add to your life. Tip: If you are reading Don Quixote in English, I reccommend the Putnam translation.
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on July 16, 2003
Everyone should read Don Quixote at least once. It is the first modern novel ever written. It is also one of the longest - although, I don't see how it could be any shorter. The novel is actually two novels stuck together. Cervantes published the first half, which became an incredible success. Years later, he published the second part which relates the third salley of the Don. The effect that this has on the book is that all the major characters in the Part II have all ready read Part I, making the book incredibly self-referential. Cervantes also has fun in mocking a spurious Part II by another author that was published at the time.
I do not speak Spanish - let alone 17th Century Castilian, so I was forced to read the novel in translation. I have never read another version, but John Rutherford's Penguin Classics version was satisfactory in every way. He does his best to retain Cervantes' humor, which is the most important aspect of the novel. Also, modern audiences my benefit from translation because it puts the book into the modern language - making a four-hundred-year-old book read fresh.
As for the plot, a country hidalgo named Alonzo Quixano spends his time reading chivalric romances. One day, he decides to become a knight errant named Don Quixote (Sir Thighpiece). He convinces a simple neighbor who speaks in proverbs, Sancho Panza, to come along with him to be his squire. Quixote is crazy and Sancho is a fool - except that they seem to be preternaturally sane and wise when the chips are down. If you are only familiar with Man of La Mancha, the book is drastically different. Dulcinae never actually makes an appearance. Sancho is traveling along because he has been promised the governorship of an island - and he gets it! They just spend the book wandering around and getting into adventures. Personally I prefer the second part of the novel (the first is too digressive).
Allow yourself some time, and enjoy this masterpiece of Western Literature.
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VINE VOICEon March 28, 2006
It's been a long time since I've read Don Quixote, and that last time it was in a scholarly sense (meaning, I was forced to read it). I enjoyed it, and thought about reading it again, so I picked up the tattered, coverless, mass-market paperback that was pressed so tightly against the inside veneer of the bookshelf that it was literally stuck there. My first impression brought back a memory (and what might actually be some sort of phobia) -- footnotes! There were literally so many footnotes, attempting to explain the translation in order to make it more readable, that it distracted /irritated /frightened me, and I crammed the book right back where I found it.

I went on a quest for a footnote-free edition, and on the suggestion of a friend picked up the "new Grossman translation". I picked it up and flipped through the pages (the softcover edition)... there were some footnotes in there, but not too many, and they seemed to, for the most part, to explain spanish terms or old currencies and the like. No case of footnotes outweighing text on any given page... so that was a good start and an immediate salve for my (admittedly bizarre) footnote phobia.

That's how I came to own this version of Don Quixote. Now that I have it, I can say:

I don't miss the footnotes (not that I of all people would), because the text is extremely readable without explanation. The story seems jauntier and more funny than I remember... although I am no scholar, and can not read the original due to my own linguistic failures, I can only assume that this more joyful gait is owed to the translation. Go Grossman!

Another important point: the production quality of the paperback edition is phenomenal -- what other publishers should strive for. The paper is heavy and opaque yet it holds well, the pages (and the cover) feeling very fluid in the hand. It sounds silly, but with a ~1000 page novel, it makes a big difference. I was able to hold the book in one hand and read comfortably. Also, the generous wings on both covers came in handy when a bookmark or paper scrap could not be found to mark my place. Go Harper Perrenial!

I wont critique the actual story here, as that has been done to death. I will keep my critique to this wonderful, straightforward, footnote-lite, feel-good edition. And this is it: I highly recommend it, a beautiful and proudly-built edition that is certainly as worthy of literary study as it is an enjoyable and entertaining way to relax. Now go and tilt at a windmill, or something.
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on June 21, 2001
The phrase 'ahead of it's time' is such a cliche that I tend to avoid it all together. Unfortunately, when trying to describe Don Quixote, no better phrase comes to mind. Written in the 1500's, this book is perhaps the first modern comedy. In Don Quixote's squire, Sancho Panza, you'll find traits later used in the ingenius Dickens' character Samuel Weller (Pickwick Papers) some 300 years later. And the craft of the language used by the translator of this new edition, along with their reassuring preface, gives me the impression that very little was lost in this translation, or at least this translation loses the least of other translations.
This book, which is a little over 1000 pages (though heavily laden with appendixes) is a great read, and the only complaint I have is the clumsy handling of the translator's notes. There is a lot of Latin quoting in the book, along with references to other chivalric novels, and rather than simply supplying a foot note, they've decided to place all of these in the back of the book, which add a lot of page flipping and unnecessary interruptions to your reading if you want to know and understand everything that's happening. Hopefully in the next edition of this translation, they will correct this. I gave this book 5 stars because it's such an excellent book in itself excellently translated, that I decided it more than worthy of the rating, but if the lack of foot notes bothers you, you may want to disqualify it.
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on May 14, 2009
Simply to echo the views of other reviewers: this is no dry academic translation of Cervantes' wildly comic Ur-novel. It is a priceless, peerless work of art in itself, and if it falls short in literalness, it brims with life, wisdom, genius...what can you say about a book that's lasted 400 years, in a translation that's 250 years old and still selling well, in new editions (even though it's on the Internet as a big fat freebie)? Why even review something so CERTIFIABLY GREAT? Only in the hope, I think, that you might nudge someone into reading something they might otherwise just set aside as one of those gray musty tomes everyone talks about but hardly anyone still reads.

(And the Modern Library edition, by the bye, is very nicely mounted in mass market and (particularly handsome) trade editions, with an interesting introduction by Carlos Fuentes and a useful set of notes that explain Smollett's language when a word or phrase bounces off contemporary comprehension.)

I'm 61 and finally got to this: you know, 100 books you didn't read in college or at any point afterward but had better read before you assume room temperature. Someone should have told me: Cervantes is BEACH READING. Or an AIRPLANE BOOK. Stow that John Grisham and read DON QUIXOTE!!! Gustav Mahler was fond of saying a symphony should embrace, or contain, or express, a universe. Don Quixote is often described as the first novel, and in this first time out Cervantes got pretty much all of his universe into the book. And then some. IN almost bite-sized chunks - a picaresque concatenation of tales that can be digested in those small bits or in much longer, multi-course meals. And Cervantes/Smollett renders this faraway world, culture, set of mores, a people and a time we can never experience directly (except in dreams)as freshly accessible, vital, vividly present, in page after sparkling page.

And after 400 years, we're not all that changed, are we?

As I commented to another reviewer, life is indeed short, and Don Quixote is l o n g , but the probability is you won't read this only once. Indeed, if you actually purchase the Smollett and lodge it in your library, I surmise you'll return to it (or passages of it) again. And again. And again. Especially if you happen to settle on Dickens, who so thoroughly absorbed Cervantes that he seems almost to have reproduced a work by him - not as in the Borges story of the scholar who reproduces, verbatim, Cervantes' novel - in capturing precisely the same dignified lunatic-serious sensibility in The Pickwick Papers. Or if you ever wonder whatever happened to the Shakespeare-Fletcher "Cardenio," you find him first, here in Cervantes.

Tobias Smollett's bawdy, high-toned translation of Don Quixote - produced by a gifted writer steeped in an inherited Elizabethan fondness for brilliantly flowing rhetorical superabundance - is to my mind the absolutely PERFECT reading experience, one of those rare books you might wish you hadn't read, so intensely might you long to experience (again) the pleasure of discovery.
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on October 15, 2011
Don Quixote de la Mancha tells the story of the self-made knight-errant Don Quixote. Don Quixote takes on this long lost profession of being a roaming knight because of his love for the romantic novels, telling of the great deeds of chivalrous knights and their quests and trials. Don Quixote sets out as a knight-errant, abandoning his possessions in search of a quest provided by God by which he can assay himself as a knight. Unfortunately for Don Quixote, the times of knights and Chivalry is long at an end and few people know what he duty of a knight is.

Don Quixote meets Sancho, a poor farmer in his town, and makes him his squire, promising him riches and "governorship of some island, once [Don Quixote] has captured it from some other great knight". Sancho, although ignorant and gullible, does not suffer from Don Quixote's perversion of reality and so acts to show what is really going on. An example of this is in the rather comical scene where Don Quixote charges at three windmills believing them to be giants terrorizing a small farm. Don Quixote brandishes his lance and charges the "giants", all the while Sancho is yelling after his master trying to tell him of his error in his perception. Don Quixote's valiant charge is abruptly ended when one of the sails comes around and takes him of f the back of his horse, Roselante, and picked him up and threw him into the ground. Don Quixote, after being sorely beaten by these "giants" later informs Sancho that only he could see that they were giants because some enchanter had caused Sancho to see nothing but the windmills. This shows the comical genius in paring up a well spoken and intelligent madman with a gullible, simple-minded companion.

The satire of Don Quixote and Sancho show the world of the romantic knight contrasted against hard reality. The truth is only seen by Sancho who has not been diluted by the tales of knights and ladies as his master has. This allows for Sancho to keep reality separated from the fiction.

Don Quixote embraces the duties of a knight, living honorably and with the Chivalric Code as his only rule-book. He demonstrates how the world of chivalry fits into the modern world. His diluted mind is always seeing fantastical images of glory and splendor. He speaks to everyone as if they were nobles, worthy of honor and respect. Often times the people who he talks to, such as innkeepers who he thinks are castle owners, or harlots who he thinks are the fairest ladies, have never been treated with such respect or given such dignity. Don Quixote in such cases shows the innocence, or perhaps ignorance, by which the Chivalric Code tells him to live. He sees everyone as worthy of respect; even his enemies are viewed by him as just and worthy opponents. Don Quixote shows how everyone should view others, as the worthies of people possible. This glorious lack of judgment towards others, which characterizes a part of Don Quixote, is laughed at and mocked by the onlookers. Through this Cervantes shows how chivalry and true knighthood is shunned, condemned, and opposed by the society of Don Quixote. Cervantes does this in a work that is both thought-provoking, glorious, and ingeniously comical. Chervantes' Don Quixote de la Mancha is an incredibly well-written, thought-provoking, interesting, and hilarious satire on the medieval mind and the chivalrous knight. Don Quixote de la Mancha is truly a masterpiece work of literature that is truly universal. One can read it as a storybook as a child as well as a deeply complex novel as an adult. Don Quixote de la Mancha is one of the greatest pieces of literature since the great Epics of the West.
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