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Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Alcalá de Henares 29 Sept. 1547 - Madrid 23 April 1616 • Spanish playwright and novelist

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Little is known of Cervantes’s youth. He went to Italy (1569), where, in the service of a cardinal, he studied Italian literature and philosophy, which were later to influence his work. In 1570 he enlisted in the army and fought in the naval battle of Lepanto (1571), receiving a wound that permanently crippled his left arm. While returning to Spain in 1575 he was captured by Barbary pirates and was sold as a slave; he eventually became the property of the viceroy of Algiers. After many attempted escapes, he was ransomed in 1580, at a cost that brought financial ruin to himself and to his family. As a government purchasing agent in Seville (1588–97), Cervantes proved less than successful; his unbusinesslike methods resulted in deficits, and he was imprisoned several times.
His first published work was an effusive pastoral romance in prose and verse, La
Galatea (1585). Between 1582 and 1587 he wrote more than 20 plays, only two of which survive. He was 58 when Part I of his masterpiece, Don Quixote (1605; Part II, 1615), was published. As a superb burlesque of the popular romances of chivalry, Don Quixote was an enormous and immediate success. A spurious Part II was published in 1614, probably spurring Cervantes to complete the work.
In later years Cervantes wrote other works of fiction, including Novelas ejemplares (1613), 12 original tales of piracy, Gypsies, and human passions, drawn from his own experience and molded by his mature craftsmanship. Some of these stories in themselves prove him to be one of the world’s great literary masters.


Amadis de Gaule
Garcia-Rodriguez de Montalvo, 1508
A Spanish chivalric romance - parodied by Cervantes in his Don Quixote - which grew to be a 21-part series.

[Palmerin de Inglaterra]
Francisco de Moraes, 1567
Together with Amadis de Gaule, this Portuguese chivalric romance has a place of honor in Don Quixote's library. Even the village priest spares it from the flames...

Tirant lo Blanc
Joanot Martorell, 1460
First published in the Catalan language in Valencia in 1490, Tirant lo Blanc ('The White Tyrant') is a sweeping epic of chivalry and high adventure.
'I swear to you, my friend, it's the best book of its kind in the world.'
- Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

The Praise of Folly
Desiderius Erasmus, 1510
A satire on the pretensions of Erasmus's contemporaries in the Church and philosophy, written for the amusement of his learned friend Thomas More.

Gargantua and Pantagruel
François Rabelais, 1532-1553
The classic satirical and ribald tale about the travels of Gargantua and Pantagruel, set in the French countryside.

Lazarillo de Tormes
Anonymous, 1554
The first picaresque novel: a brief, simply told tale of a rogue’s adventures and misadventures - full of laconic cynicism and spiced with puns and wordplay.

Orlando Furioso
Ludovico Ariosto, 1532
A brilliantly witty parody of the medieval romances, and a fitting monument to the court society of the Italian Renaissance which gave them birth.


Don Quixote
1605 / 1615
–› Excerpt

A comic study of delusion and its consequences; Don Quixote, the old gentleman of La Mancha, takes to the road in search of adventure and remains undaunted in the face of repeated disaster.

The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus
Hans Jakob Christoph von Grimmelshausen, 1668
The vagabond adventures of a not-so-simple simpleton during one of Europe's fiercest, yet ultimately most futile wars.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Laurence Sterne, 1759-1767
This book interweaves the birth and life of the unfortunate 'hero' Tristram Shandy, the eccentric philosophy of his father Walter, the amours and military obsessions of Uncle Toby, and a host of other characters.

Madame Bovary: Patterns of Provincial Life
Gustave Flaubert, 1857
Emma Bovary, a young country doctor' s wife, seeks escape from the boredom of her existence in love affairs and romantic yearnings, but is doomed to disillusionment.

Elias Canetti, 1935
This is the story of a distinguished scholar in Germany between the wars. It builds up the elements in the scholar himself, and in his personal relationships, which will lead to his destruction.

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole, 1980
A monument to sloth, rant and contempt, and suspicious of anything modern - meet Ignatius J. Reilly of New Orleans, crusader against dunces.

James Joyce, 1922
Stylistically varied Homer-parody about the Dublin everyman Leopold Bloom, who emerges as surrogate father to Stephen Dedalus on the day his wife Molly sleeps with another man.

Dead Souls
Nikolai Gogol, 1842
In this quintessentially Russian novel, the reader follows Chichikov, a dismissed civil servant turned con-man, through the countryside in pursuit of his shady enterprise.

Moby Dick
Herman Melville, 1851
The Nantucket whaling ship, the Pequod, spirals the globe in search of Moby Dick, the mythical white whale of the Southern Oceans.

Henderson the Rain King
Saul Bellow, 1959
Henderson has come to Africa on a spiritual safari, a quest for 'the truth.' His feats of strength, his passion for life, and, most importantly, his inadvertant 'success' in bringing rain have made him a god-like figure among the tribes.

The Flatteners, starring Sir Oliver Bommel
Marten Toonder, 1969 / 1972
Adventures of Sir Oliver Bommel - a most aristocratic bear - and his best friend Tom Puss.

The Good Soldier Svejk and His Fortunes in the World War
Jaroslav Hasek, 1920-1923
The deeply funny story of a hapless Czech soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army - dismissed for incompetence only to be pressed into service by the Russians in World War I (where he is captured by his own troops).

Joseph Heller, 1961
At the heart of Joseph Heller's bestselling novel, first published in 1961, is a satirical indictment of military madness and stupidity, and the desire of the ordinary man to survive it.

Jan Arends, 1972
Autobiographical stories about life in a mental institution.

Vladimir Nabokov, 1955
The story of Humbert Humbert and his obsession with 12-year-old Dolores Haze. Determined to possess his 'Lolita' both carnally and artistically, Humbert embarks on a disastrous courtship that can only end in tragedy.

Jorges Luis Borges, 1935/ 1944 / 1949
Not quite short stories, Borgesian narrations are metaphysical speculation, the elaborate working out of a hypothetical premise or philosophical concept.

The Black Book
Orhan Pamuk, 1990
Galip, an Istanbul lawyer, suspects that his vanished wife is hiding out with her half-brother, a newspaper columnist whose fame Galip envies. Galip plays the part of private investigator, with dire consequences.

A pastoral romance.
Exemplary Stories
More popular in their day than Don Quixote, Cervantes' Exemplary Stories defy the conventions of heroic chivalric literature through a combination of comic irony, moral ambiguity,
realism, and sheer mirth.
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