Cervantes Street by Jaime Manrique is a historical-fiction novel about Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s journey to write Don Quixote. The book is peppered with literary references to Cervantes’ works as well as works of the time, while I didn’t get many I did enjoy learning about them.
After the huge success of Don Quixote, a second part not written by Cervantes appears. The book is written by someone who uses the nom de plume Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda and prompts Cervantes to write his own “Book II”.
Who is Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda and why did he write the mysterious novel? To find out the reader goes on a journey with Cervantes, from his escapes after killing a man (who insulted his Jewish ancestry), to his studies in Madrid, his passion of poetry, life in Rome and fighting in the battle of Lepanto. We trudge through years of slavery in Algiers (the story being told as a side tale in Don Quixote) as well as through his life back in Spain, where the famous author loves, loses and finally sits down to write his masterpiece.
As followers of my blog know, I am a big fan of Don Quixote, probably more to the nostalgia associated with the story from my childhood than anything to do with the classic story. However, when I did read the full length novel (both parts) I understood why the book has become such a literary classic.
Unfortunately, many readers get daunted by the sheer size of Don Quixote. The stories in the classic tale need knowledge of the time’s pop-culture in order to fully enjoy the reading experience. However, the same could be said for Shakespeare and several other authors from the far and not-so-far past.
For those readers who are overwhelmed by the size of the classic book, Cervantes Street by Jaime Manrique is the perfect introduction. The novel is exciting, paced well, interesting and with a literary mystery to boot. The “mystery” is quite easy to figure out, but it’s the way we get to the end which makes the journey worth taking.
Mr. Manrique took an interesting life, gave it depth and narrative which shows great skill. The book is an exciting voyage where the literary payoff (both in the book and for the reader) is worth the investment and the old world in all its vividness and cruelty comes alive.
The author takes great care in assimilating some of Spain’s greatest poets into the story as well as weaving some of Don Quixote’s legends to the narrative. Many of the poets mentioned I did not recognize (I did read with interest the “Note to the Reader” section); however, I did enjoy the literary license Mr. Manrique took to tell the story.
To write a good book you need a good heart is one of the lessons learned from this book, but there are other profound insights, not the least of them are about religion and destiny. We are responsible for our own future; we build our lives and we destroy them, but it’s never too late. After all, Cervantes was a dismal failure at everything he tried until he wrote Don Quixote at age 59.
The book is compact yet consistent with the life of Cervantes, Mr. Manrique manages to employ his imagination to create a rich environment and a gripping adventure. The characters are wonderfully inventive and charming; they all have their flaws, their hearts and their assets, which makes the book real and engaging.
- 320 pages
- Publisher: Akashic Books (September 4, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 161775126X