The actual facts of Miguel de Cervantes' life seem to be snatched from an epic tale: An impoverished and talented young poet nearly kills a man in a duel and is forced into exile; later, he distinguishes himself in battle and is severely wounded, losing the use of his left hand; on his way back to Spain his ship is captured by pirates and he is sold into slavery in Algiers; after prolonged imprisonment and failed escape attempts, he makes his way back home, eventually settling in a remote village in La Mancha to create his masterpiece, the first modern novel in Western literature: Don Quixote.
Taking the bare bones of Cervantes' life, Jaime Manrique has accomplished a singular feat: an engaging and highly accessible interpretation of a brilliant, enigmatic man and his epoch. Manrique breathes vivid life into his characters, transporting listeners viscerally into his story as he makes full use of its inherent suspense and drama, its pathos and ironies, its colorful locales and momentous events.
It all begins with two bright youths in Madrid whose rivalry over a beautiful woman will shape the course of their lives. Miguel de Cervantes is the passionate one, handsome, gifted, reckless, and ambitious, but from a family fallen on hard times and suspected of being "tainted" with Jewish blood. His classmate Luis de Lara, a wealthy but awkward aristocrat, as well as mediocre poet, from one of the most powerful families in Spain, is engaged to his beautiful cousin Mercedes. When 22-year-old Miguel nearly kills someone in a tavern brawl, he is forced to flee to Seville, joining a troupe of traveling actors to escape a decree ordering that his right hand be cut off. As Luis endeavors to save his friend, he has occasion to introduce Miguel to his beloved Mercedes. To Luis's horror, he soon discovers that the two have fallen in love. Luis becomes consumed with hatred for his former friend and swears eternal revenge.
From that moment on, the two go their separate ways, but their lives remain fatefully intertwined. The adventurous Miguel continues to visit Mercedes before going into exile; and although Mercedes eventually marries Luis, she never stops loving Miguel. The tormented Luis searches in vain to prove his superiority to his wife, and then to his son, and always with respect to his hated rival - as a poet and scholar; as a man of impeccable taste, character, and sensibilities. Completely unaware of Luis's masked hatred of him, Miguel continues throughout his life to seek assistance from his erstwhile friend, with disastrous results. Luis watches with festering envy Miguel's exploits as a soldier, as a servant of the crown, and above all as a writer; and he only finds pleasure in sporadic reports of his rival's darkest hours.
Told in alternating chapters by the opposing protagonists, Manrique's archetypal tale of rivalry and revenge is sure to garner comparisons to Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, and, with its extraordinary recreation of the life and times of Cervantes, to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. Pirates and priests, ladies of the court and lowly prostitutes, warriors and slaves, and, yes, even the wonderful Sancho Panza are singularly brought to life in this brilliant depiction of Spain's Golden Age.
©2012 Jaime Manrique (P)2013 Audible, Inc.