Some stories are eternal, and while writers don’t necessarily repeat them word-for-word through the generations, they are capable of crafting compelling echoes that evoke both the time we’re in and the universal emotional constants of humanity. Evoking that sense of universality becomes more difficult when you’re telling a story that’s an open homage to one of the most famous and influential works of literature in human history, but in his insightful and wickedly funny way, Salman Rushdie pulls it off with Quichotte.
A retelling of Don Quixote, Quichotte follows a man who, on a quest to win the heart of a daytime TV star, has redubbed himself “Quichotte” (pronounced “Key-shot”) and committed his life to the pure pursuit of what he calls “The Beloved.” To aid him in his quest, he imagines a son called Sancho, and the two journey together on a road trip through a half-imagined, enchanted version of the American landscape, staying in hotels where the TV is always on.
Quichotte and Sancho’s story is woven through a metanarrative, as Rushdie reveals that their story is actually being imagined by a man who writes spy novels under the pen name Sam DuChamp. DuChamp and Quichotte’s stories are both, in their ways, tributes to Cervantes’ epic quest for love and acceptance, full of journeys to redemption and understanding in a world that seems to have gone mad around them, and it’s in this metafictional journey that Rushdie’s already witty and precise prose really comes alive. By structuring Quichotte as a narrative within a narrative, he’s given himself an inventive way to say something about a world obsessed with everything from reality television to hacktivism.
Quichotte is a story of breathtaking intellectual scope, and yet it never feels too weighty or self-serious. Like Cervantes, Rushdie is able to balance his commentary with a voice full of tragicomic fervor, which makes the novel a thrilling adventure on a sentence-by-sentence level and another triumph for Rushdie.