Miguel de Cervantes remains the most influential Spanish novelist of all time. Cervantes single-handedly invented the modern novel with his masterpiece El Ingeniso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha). This work, often referred to as Don Quixote, continues to enchant readers more than 400 years after its original publication. Acclaimed literary critic Harold Bloom wrote that “Cervantes and Shakespeare…are the central western authors, at least since Dante, and no writer since has matched them.” If you want to understand history, philosophy, or literature in the West, you must explore this novel by Cervantes.

Illustration of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

This is not to say Cervantes’ masterpiece is just a dry history book. Don Quixote is alive, passionate, and very funny. This novel tells the tale of Mr. Alonso Quixano, a man who loves to read romance stories. Indeed, he becomes so infatuated with these tales of chivalry that he actually goes a bit bonkers. He sets out on a quest to try and revive the chivalric code and bring justice in the world. Sancho Panza, a farmer, becomes Don Quixote’s sidekick, who adds a touch of reality to Quixote’s vivid, yet often unrealistic, imagination.

Literary critics have been stunned by this powerful work of fiction. But you don’t have to be a critic or a historian to enjoy this work. The true test of any great work of literature is that is speaks to fundamental truths of the human condition at all times. Cervantes penetrates into a deep human longing through Don Quixote’s heroic idealism. Quixote himself has come to symbolize an element of the human condition and has entered our English language in the word: “quixotic”. “Quixotic” is defined as “hopeful or romantic in a way that is not practical”. This shows that Cervantes’ deep insights into the human condition remain very much alive. To read of Cervantes’ text, even so far removed from the Golden Age of Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries, is as powerful an act as when it was originally published.

To read of Don Quixote’s adventures is an imaginative experience almost without analogue. His longings and strivings have survived the ages, and they will continue to speak to us so long as there are humans who feel and dream and strive towards the heavens.

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