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Book Review: France, Miranda (2002). Don Quixote's Delusions: Travels in Castilian Spain. Overlook Press; ISBN: 1585672920
By Joan Hutchinson
October 24, 2002

Forget tilting at windmills-just finding time to read for pleasure while in school can seem like the Impossible Dream. So I find it rather optimistic (and a little quixotic) that Silverfish editors expect to lure you away from your studies with book reviews. But I'll try my best.

Most of the books I read find me-I work at the circulation desk at Seattle Public Library-and this one was no exception. As the travel book buyer for many years at Elliott Bay Books, I still can't resist a promising new travel essay. But it takes an undiscovered place to catch my attention-or a unique approach. Miranda France has the latter, interweaving accounts of two sojourns in central Spain with an examination of Cervantes' life and work.

France first lived in Madrid as a Spanish language student in post-Franco 1987, when the country was still enjoying a near-delirious freedom following years of dictatorship. Sex, drugs, and revolt were in the air, and France soon befriends an eccentric circle of anarchists, Basque Nationalists, and Peruvian revolutionaries. (The group is too busy partying to hatch any serious uprisings.) The heady days are short-lived, however. When France returns to Castile only 10 years later, she finds the revolutionary spirit quashed, the Catholic Church regaining ground, and a right-wing government in power. Even writers of "pink novels," the eroticism that flourished when Franco died, are complaining of the backlash: "It isn't enough to shock any more, the prose has got to be good."

It's clear to see why France loves Don Quixote. In addition to her knowledge of Spanish history and literature, she displays a fine sense of the absurd. On Spanish forthrightness, for example: "Any woman who really wants to know if her bottom looks big can find out in Spain." And her description of the ritual of El Colacho, when a Spaniard dressed as the folkloric figure-albeit with high-tech trainers-leaps over a mattress of babies: "In their short lives they had seen many entertaining objects rattled and waved above them, but nothing as extravagant as this. Eight pairs of eyes watched as the devil passed swiftly overhead."

Halfway through this book, you'll want to get out a map of Spain, pinpoint Toledo, Avila, and Salamanca, re-read Cervantes, even read a good history of the Spanish Civil War (taken from the excellent bibliography France provides). Oh, but you can't-you're iSchool students!

Note from the Readers Editor: Dear Readers, I'm honored to have been chosen, based on my past writing and editing experience, to be the new Silverfish Readers Editor. Luckily for me, Michael and Aaron didn't ask me what I read NOW. The answer, truthfully, is usually anything outside of the information field. So, I'm relying on you to point out any LIS-related books (only well-written ones, please) that you think should be reviewed in these issues. Better yet, we would love to publish your submitted reviews. There is no compensation except seeing your name in print (good for the resume and portfolio!) and the gratitude of an editor left with more time for pleasure reading.

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Edited by Michael Harkovitch

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