Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes

The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes

This will be an inaduqate review because I can't find the proper words to shape my admiration for this ambitious and completely successful literary novel by Stephen Marlowe.

I've reviewed Steve here several times over the years. As the writer of the Chester Drum Gold Medals. As the writer of some of my favorite pulp science fiction stories in the old Amazing and Fantastic. And as the writer of several excellent stand-alone noirs that sould be in print today. (Not to mention three Ace Doubles under his own name and a very cool Ace adventure novel as by C.H. Thames, one of Steve's sf pseudonyms). He's also written other literary novels (as well as international bestsellers in the thriller cateory--how's that for a career?).

But for me Miguel de Cervantes is his masterpiece.

The story is so layered, so textured that I have to resort to a review of it to give you even a sense of its sweep and scope:


"Packed to overflowing with sparkling wit, sensuous passion, and full-blooded adventure" --Time Out,London

"This is the story of my death and life, in which fiction and that lesser truth, history, from time to time form a seamless whole."

Speaking is the hero of Stephen Marlowe’s brilliant new novel. He is Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: son of a barber-surgeon (always on the run from the bill collector), grandson of a converso(a Jew who chose Christianity over the flames of the Spanish Inquisition), adorer of his own sister (who may not have been his sister after all), brother of one of the most famous spies in recorded history (though the records have mysteriously vanished), prisoner in an Algerian dungeon (following capture by Barbary Pirates), friend to a Faustian eunuch astrologer named Cide Hamete Benegeli (whose missing private parts are miraculously regenerating), and, of course, creator of the most celebrated of all fictional historical novels--The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

The facts of Cervantes’s life cry out for the epic treatment found in his comic masterpiece. Marlowe gives it to us. From the author of The Lighthouse at the End of the World(“a spellbinding novel,” said the Los Angeles Times by a “historical novelist of the first rank,” echoed Publishers Weekly in a starred review) comes a work of exuberant, breathless, headfirst adventure. The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes is storytelling at its finest.

Ed here: I shy away from many historical novels because too often they read like term papers with dialogue. Even a few that have won National Book Awards have struck me as hollow at their core, more research than passion.

But what Steve has done here is create a believable voice that not only carries the tale but reveals character as well. He also fills the voice with idiosyncracies that that raise it above simple narration. The tart bemusement, the suspicious bargain he makes with the rest of humanity. You believe the voice because Steve believes it. Indeed, I suspect there's a lot of Steve in the voice.

I read this over a couple of weeks while I read other books. I tend to have two or three books going at the same time anyway (much like my friend Dick Laymon used to). But no matter what else I read I wanted to get back into the poetry and sly humor and relentless adventure of Miguel de Cervantes.

The holidays are coming up. You couldn't give a better gift.

(This was published by Arcade in 1991 but I'm sure you can find copies on line.)

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