Sat, Jan 01, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Spain honors own 'Don Quixote' with year of celebrations

THE GUARDIAN , MADRID

The Spanish government is preparing this year to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its coun-try's most famous literary character, with exhibitions, public readings, films, debates -- and US$11 million in tax breaks for companies.

The first part of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes was first published in 1605.

The novel is widely considered among the greatest works of literature, and ministers plan to use the anniversary to promote Spanish culture abroad and literacy at home.

"This celebration will reach every public library in every corner of Spain," culture minister Carmen Calvo said.

She hopes to encourage more Spaniards to open a book that is far more well-known than it is well-read.

"The most important tribute you can pay the book is to read it," she said.

Don Quixote has been variously described as the first great European novel, the first work of modern literature and the foundation of Latin American fiction.

"All prose fiction is a variation on the theme of Don Quixote," the American critic Lionel Trilling wrote in 1950.

In 2002, the novel was voted the best book of all time by a group of 100 writers, including Salman Rushdie, Nadine Gordimer, Wole Soyinka and Norman Mailer, in a survey organized by editors at the Norwegian Book Club in Oslo.

The novel tells the story of Don Quixote, a humble, book-loving village gentleman who dries up his brain by reading too many cheap romances, and decides to throw it all in to become a knight errant.

He puts on a cardboard helmet, mounts an old horse and sets off across the plain with his faithful sidekick, Sancho Panza. They are searching for a peasant girl from a nearby village who the Don imagines is a noble princess. Along the way they sow chaos and confusion wherever they go.

Cervantes had experience of an itinerant life. He was born into poverty in Alcala de Henares, near Madrid, in 1547. He joined the army and lost the use of his left hand fighting the Turks in 1571. He was then captured by pirates on his way home. He spent five years as a captive in Algeria.

Cervantes later worked as a traveling tax collector in Andalucia, and spent a brief time in prison in Seville. It was there, he suggests teasingly in the prologue to the book, that the idea for the novel began to take shape.

This week, Calvo and officials have launched a consortium to promote anniversary events and encourage public and private organizations to participate.

The public broadcaster, RTVE, will air documentaries on the theme throughout the year. It has recruited celebrities and members of the public from across the Spanish-speaking world to read a section of the book each day.

Besides organizing readings and debates, the ministry of culture will promote new works of music, theatre, film and dance based on Don Quixote.

Companies that sponsor such events in the coming year will receive a tax break from the government.

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