Cervantes’ follow-up to Don Quixote, retold for a new generation of readers.
Why exemplary? And why novels, when even the longest of these dozen stories is barely a novella, technically speaking? There are two broad reasons: the stories are compressed masterworks, containing great canvases and big ideas in just a few pages, and they all contain morals, if ones that may now seem a little fusty. Gypsies often come in for hard times. So do Jews and Muslims, but Cervantes’ great theme and rhetorical trick, no matter the ethnicity or religion of the players, is that humans are duplicitous and their ways suspect: “What is this, traitor Alí Pasha, that you, being a Muslim—which means a Turk—assault me as a Christian?” So asks an indignant Ottoman, caught up in a moment of confusion in a tableau involving a kidnapped woman on the way to being delivered to the Great Lord in Istanbul‚ though whether a virgin or not remains to be seen. Everyone pretty much tricks everyone else, spectacularly in the case of an unfortunate goof whose wife turns out to be a hooker who leaves him not just with bad vibes, but also an STD. Some of Cervantes’ stories verge on the fabulous and sometimes-surreal, as with one concerning a lawyer who imagines that he has been turned to glass, though even so, he protests, “I am not so fragile that I go along with the tide of vulgar opinion, which is most often mistaken.” The wisdom of crowds indeed. Cervantes’ stories are a pleasure, though even in Grossman's sure hands they’re a bit old-fashioned in content and tone: “The duke…sent many presents to Bologna, some so rich and sent in so timely and opportune a way, that although they could not be accepted to avoid the appearance that they were being paid, the time when they arrived facilitated everything….”
Late works from a font of so much subsequent literature; essential for students of literary history.