Dear Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra,
I have decided that it is time to discuss with you the role and import your novel The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615) has had in my life. I vacillate between joy and anger when thinking of Quixote and his partner Sancho Panza. I met them when I was a young college student putting myself through school as the first in my family to attempt such an endeavor (or adventure). I was enchanted by characters who saw the cruelty and evil in the world but chose to focus on finding the good in each of their encounters despite their many travails.
Quixote and Panza burrowed into my brain and I decided to become an archivist and librarian. I read insatiably so that I could always be knowledgeable about the world and its vagaries. Most importantly I focused my attentions on preserving voices of those previously unrecognized. I forged a career steeped in social issues designed to improve the human condition. I was “tilting at windmills.” I knew it and, most days, I embraced it. I wanted women’s lives represented in the canon of world history. I wanted the desires and dreams of young students to be fulfilled. I wanted joy, happiness, love and peace to prevail.
I forgot, Senor Cervantes, that your book was a novel, a fiction. Just like Quixote tended to forget that evil and mean-spiritedness were ever-prevalent in an unjust and non-chivalrous world. How many times did I fall and fail? How many times was I bruised and beaten by the seemingly never-ending negativity of everyday life? But wait, how many times did I get up, brush myself off and continue on my quest. More times than I’d like to admit. Why?
Why did I push forward? Why did I continue to preach the gospel of worth, dignity, value and goodness especially in a world that seems to get more evil every day? Because as Quixote teaches us throughout the book, the world is a place of phenomenal adventures, passionate and virtuous individuals, and spectacular beauty if we humans choose to follow that path.
Senor Cervantes, thank you. Thank you for writing a cautionary tale about idealism and providing a road map for understanding and wistful contemplation throughout my years since our first meeting. I have visited often, reread your prose frequently, and despite the challenges, have no true regrets for following Don Quixote and Sancho Panza on their quests or traveling through mine. The dream may be impossible but without such dreams creativity, elation and inventiveness flounders and I, for one, do not want to live in such a world.
With ardor and devotion,
Reviewer Jackie Esposito is the special projects librarian/archivist at Penn State University Park. She's read 73 of the books on PBS's Great American Read list.
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