For almost a year now, Don Quixote has been sitting on my book shelf. I’ve even picked it up once or twice – and gotten about half way through Harold Bloom’s introduction before putting it back up onto the shelf. It’s an intimidating looking book – a sinister knight-errant’s helmet staring at you, slightly out of focus, swimming in a background of blood-red. Take a good look at that cover and tell me it’s not a bit ominous. Bet you can’t.
Still, sinister looking or not, it’s on top of my TBR list. And, to get me in the mood, I found a great essay by Edith Grossman, whose creepy looking translation has received wonderful reviews. In the essay, Grossman talks about the difficulty of even approaching such a seminal work. I especially liked her comments about tackling the opening sentence.
In the back of my mind was the rather fanciful notion that if I could successfully translate the opening phrase—probably the most famous words in Spanish, comparable to the opening lines of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy in English…then the rest of the novel would somehow fall into place. The first part of the sentence in Spanish reads: “En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme…” I recited those words to myself as if they were a mantra, until an English phrase materialized that seemed to have a comparable rhythm and drive, that played with the multiple meanings of the word lugar (both “place” and “village”), and that echoed some of the sound of the original: “Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember…” It felt right to me, and with a rush of euphoric satisfaction I told myself I might actually be able to translate this grand masterpiece of a book.
As I mentioned, I’ve started this book twice already before putting it down for various reasons. I have a long holiday coming up starting next Thursday; hopefully, the third time will be a charm.