With very frequent searching in my heavy, thick Oxford Spanish Dictionary, I am reading, in Spanish, Miguel de Unamuno’s Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho. Reading it in Spanish gives me a chance to use and improve my Spanish, a feeling of accomplishment, and pleasant memories of living in Salamanca while I was teaching in a study abroad program there. Also, there are only fairly expensive editions available in English translation. A quick search of Amazon reveals that one hardcover edition of Anthony Kerrigan’s translation is priced at $859.82, and another one, a used hardcover, priced at only $60.46, is ranked #9,470,737 in Amazon’s Best Sellers Rank. Suffice it to say, this is not a book likely to be the book of the month in a book club these days. And if you were to propose it, you might be met with an awkward pause followed by someone changing the subject. Nevertheless, nevertheless, dear reader, I am recommending to you that you buy that $60.46 edition and do your bit to bump up that ranking, but also that you read it, because it is a very great work of literature.
Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentinian writer, wrote that he regarded The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations as Unamuno’s greatest work, and that he didn’t think Cervantes’s Don Quixote needed to be retold, as Unamuno had done. I only finally read the whole Don Quixote while I was in Salamanca, a year and a half ago, and I am only about halfway through Unamuno’s retelling of it, and it is slow going and I am taking my time; but already I can tell that I think it is at least as wonderful as The Tragic Sense of Life, has the same message, and tells that message in a way that is no less profoundly moving than it is delightfully entertaining. What is that message? Here, finally, is the passage I want to share with you, in my own inelegant translation:
“If inspirations of the heart and faith in the eternal release us from the anguishes of the night of superstition and fear of the unknown, why when the light of experience shines do we have to make fun of those inspirations and of that faith? And so much more as we will once again need them, since as night follows day, a new night will return after this new day, and thus between light and darkness we go on living and going to an end that is neither darkness nor light, but something in which both are combined and confounded, something in which heart and head are merged, and in which Don Quijote and Sancho are one.”