New Don Q: Excellent Translation and Narration Make Perfect Audio Book

The audio book of Edith Grossman’s new translation of Don Quixote was the perfect driving companion for my trip across the country. At a whopping 40.5 hours, I listened to the 35 CDs almost nonstop but didn’t even finish it in the car (though only about 20 minutes were left for me to listen to after arriving).

As I suppose I could have guessed, the text of Don Quixote is particularly well suited to the audio book format. Among other things, it’s largely a book about storytelling, and many long sections of the book felt very much in the spirit of The Canterbury Tales. Characters enter, tell their stories to the main characters (and to us readers in the process), and then go their merry way. It strikes me as the perfect book to read to a child a chapter a night, as each chapter stands on its own as an isolated adventure or even a story within a story. Like A Thousand and One Nights, it begs to be read aloud in installments.

Of course, the success of a good oral story depends on the reader, who needs the right voice, interpretation, interest, and believability to tell the tale in a gripping, convincing manner. George Guidall is the perfect narrator for this story. From the first pages of the Preface, I could already tell that his voice was the one I’d imagine for Don Quixote (and, by extension in my mind, Cervantes himself). His narration always captures the humor of the book without turning it into slapstick comedy, and he effectively reads all characters, both male and female, as rich, distinct voices without resorting to caricature. For example, he characterizes his female voices by using a softer tone, not a higher pitch. He doesn’t try to sound like a woman; rather, he simply conveys the fact that a female is speaking. I often find this is a challenge for readers of audio books. There’s nothing worse than hearing a male reader go falsetto when reading a female character’s lines.

Also, though I’ve never read or heard any other translation and so have nothing to compare it to, I found Edith Grossman’s new version remarkably crisp, current without being anachronistic, and generally easy on the ears, which, since I imagine that’s how the Spanish would have sounded to Cervantes’ original readership, strikes me as a success.

In short, if you’re planning your own cross-country drive, or if you have some other long-term commitment to solitude that you need to fill with a good yarn, I highly recommend picking up this audio version of Don Quixote. If you’re just looking for something to occupy your daily commute, this might not be the book for you, simply because you’ll be listening to nothing else for quite some time.