Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade, Yucca, and Good Books imprints, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in fictionnovels, novellas, political and medical thrillers, comedy, satire, historical fiction, romance, erotic and love stories, mystery, classic literature, folklore and mythology, literary classics including Shakespeare, Dumas, Wilde, Cather, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.
|Sold by:||SIMON & SCHUSTER|
|File size:||676 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Being an Exploration of the Columbus Connection And Other Family Matters of Consequence
My great-grandfather knew Christopher Columbus before he discovered the New World. Ruy Díaz de Cervantes was proud of his acquaintance with the legendary explorer, but his son and my grandfather, the attorney Juan de Cervantes Saavedra, denied to his dying day that his father and Columbus had ever met. There's a story in this, but it's not my story. Not quite, anyway. There's a story in most things, if only you know how to find it.
My great-grandfather Ruy Díaz de Cervantes lived in Córdoba, where he belonged to a drinking club that met at the apothecary shop of two Genoese brothers to weigh such grave matters as physics, astrology, Aristotle's Poetics and the then-contestable — to some, detestable — roundness of the earth. One day in 1486 the Genoese apothecaries admitted to their club a disarmingly monomaniacal navigator who himself had been raised in Genoa by probably Spanish, possibly New Christian, parents. This, to give him the name he used on arrival in Córdoba, was Cristoforo Colombo.
Some in the drinking club sailed with Columbus on his first great voyage of discovery and left their bleached bones in the Indies, but most, like the men of my grandmother Leonor de Torreblanca's family, merely drank and argued with Columbus before sinking back into respected obscurity. The people of Andalucía deplore overachieving, except by themselves.
My mother, another Leonor, Doña Leonor Cortinas from the village of Barajas near Madrid, would tell me and my sister Andrea, 'Oh, they did have one thing in common, that lot — there wasn't a Rusty Old Christian among them.' This was an overstatement. Doña Leonor lived in a world of overstatement, doubtless to compensate for the underachievement of her husband, the barber-surgeon Rodrigo de Cervantes.
'Your grandfather the Patriarch' — she always called him that — 'married a Torreblanca, which is to say a New Christian, which is to say a converso, which is to say a person of Jewish ancestry, so his purity of blood, if any, did not pass to you children.'
Doña Leonor's Old Testamentally relentless scorn of her father-in-law was so reciprocated that when my father Rodrigo plunged the family into poverty, as he regularly did, Juan the Patriarch never opened his purse to let even a handful of maravedÃs trickle in our direction.
An early memory, which Andrea, who is almost three years older, confirms:
'Well, we're moving! On the old road again,' shouted my father in a simulacrum of cheer.
'Who did you kill this time?' asked my mother.
'Nobody. I didn't kill nobody.'
The double negative, I ought to say, is no indication of a deficient education — my father was speaking Spanish, after all. 'Lazarillo de Tormes had nothing on us!' he shouted, referring to the protagonist of the picaresque novel then a bestseller in Spain. 'No, señora! We travel, we see the world and learn how psychology breeds geography, or is it the other way around?'
'After Lazarillo de Tormes saw the world,' said Doña Leonor, 'he settled down in Valencia or somewhere as town crier — a good steady job that you if anyone could handle.'
My father's deafness got worse every year. It was why he shouted.
'Toledo. Lazarillo was town crier of Toledo,' he shouted.
After this minor literary correction — my father was an expert on the more impractical aspects of book lore, like poetry and picaresque novels — Doña Leonor fell silent, but it was an eloquent silence. Where she scorned her father-in-law the Patriarch, she merely disdained her husband, a subtle distinction, but one Doña Leonor knew how to draw.
Rodrigo de Cervantes was so thin and angular that, although he was a man of barely middle height, at a casual glance he appeared tall. Stamped on his sallow, sparsely bearded face was the wistful expression of someone who wished he had been born in some other place or time.
Andrea asked, 'Why must we move again, PapÃ¡?'
'You're too young to understand.'
'Try me,' suggested Doña Leonor ominously.
My father sighed. Then he shouted, 'I simply failed to reduce a dislocated shoulder. It's not so easy, you know. A door, you usually use a door and a stout rope. You need shoulders of your own like the bellringer at Sevilla Cathedral.' My father did not have such shoulders. 'Well, what happened, instead of reducing the dislocated left shoulder, I somehow managed to dislocate the right.'
'Who did the shoulders belong to?' demanded Doña Leonor.
'A count. A no-account count,' my father shouted. 'Practically threadbare. Hardly a grandee of Spain, my dear. Still, it would be politic to leave right away.'
It was frequently politic and never a problem. We had few possessions and Doña Leonor always hid enough money somewhere to hire, in the inevitable extremis, one of those long, covered mule carts called galleys. Andrea and my next-oldest sister Luisa and I were all the right age for the roads and inns of Spain to seem limitlessly seductive; my younger brother Rodrigo was just a toddler, and my third sister Magdalena hadn't been born yet, nor the youngest of us, little Juan the Obscure.
Our removal did not deter the count with the two dislocated shoulders from bringing the predictable lawsuit. Litigiousness proliferated in Spain in its Century of Gold no less than in Elizabethan England and other contemporary centres of culture, an unfortunate by-product of Renaissance humanism, which one shouldn't be too hard on. As Cide Hamete — arguably the world's most profound philosopher — would tell me many years later, 'Avoid all isms — except the one good one.' Ah! But which was that? The sage Arab never said.
Another early memory, again confirmed by my sister Andrea:
To go to prison, Doña Leonor dressed me in my best — actually, my only — grey serge suit. Mother's and daughters' homespun gowns parted in inverted 'V's to reveal their kirtles. This modest finery had escaped the depredations of the bailiff who, two days after my father's arrest for debt, came to the small house outside Valladolid where my father's pragmatic travels had deposited us, and distrained before a distraught Doña Leonor my father's guitar and sword, my mother's empty jewel case, a table and three broken chairs, blankets as much moth holes as merino wool, straw-deficient mattresses, and a chipped Christ-child in a lidless wooden box. Only my father's pathetic library of half a dozen books (of which more later) was spared.
'If,' said Doña Leonor disdainfully, 'you could prove you were gentry, you'd be free in five minutes. It's against the law to imprison an hidalgo for debt.'
To be married to an hidalgo — hijo de algo, son-of- something, a man of consequence — you could see the longing in Doña Leonor's eyes.
'I could prove it,' said Rodrigo de Cervantes, 'if they let me out of here.'
'They won't let you out until you do prove it.'
'That's called a paradox, I think,' chirped my sister Andrea brightly.
At eight, insatiably curious Andrea was fascinated by everything in Valladolid prison. 'They put ladies in prison too,' she marvelled.
'Those are not ladies,' Doña Leonor said.
My sister Luisa's head was bowed. Her lips moved in silent prayer.
My father hugged Andrea to his chest, possibly to keep her from seeing too much.
'Well, son of a something,' Doña Leonor taunted him, 'if you're an hidalgo, now's the time to prove it.'
Proving limpieza de sangre, purity of blood, was out of the question, but a patent of nobility, even a coat-of-arms, these were possible. Yet in all the years of his marriage Rodrigo de Cervantes had never managed to get them.
'What are that man and lady doing?' Andrea asked my mother.
'She's no lady. Don't look. And stop pointing.'
But in the dim light of the visitors' room my sister Andrea looked and looked, her pale blue eyes enormous.
'What are they doing?' I asked her.
'Why did I ever bring them here?' Doña Leonor wailed.
'Beg the warden to release me for thirty days. In thirty days I'll prove I'm a gent.'
The warden refused, but sent Doña Leonor to a lawyer, a young Basque named IÃ±aki SatrÃºstegui ZumalacÃ¡rregui.
Doña Leonor practised those thirteen tongue-tormenting syllables, but to no avail. Basque does not resemble Castilian. Or any other language.
'Call me Picapleitos,' the young lawyer suggested. 'My fellow students at Salamanca always did.'
Picapleitos was a small intense man in a black baize doublet and tight black hose. He sat with his skinny legs crossed, swinging a brass- buckled shoe. His undersized head rested on a huge starched cambric ruff, like an apple on a stack of platters, and he had an inordinately long nose, the tip of which God had pinched to a point.
'A veritable patent of nobility,' he said, 'would of course cost a fortune. But gentility can also be acquired in much the same manner as its divine equivalent, the state of grace. My ecclesiastical colleagues speak of indulgence. A Janus-faced term. Here in the shop we frankly prefer the word bribery.' Picapleitos stroked the length of his long nose, bridge to tip, his clean hand somehow managing to leave an ink smear. 'Now then. How much are you prepared to spend?'
'Well,' Doña Leonor parried.
Picapleitos stroked his nose in reverse, tip to bridge. The ink smear vanished. 'Contingency,' he complained. 'I should have known. My dear señora, gentility-by-repute or -aspect does not come cheap. What does your man do in life?'
'He's a barber-surgeon.'
'No fixed income.' Picapleitos sighed. The tip of his now unsmeared nose quivered. 'Would a moneylender be helpful at this point in time? It so happens that my cousin — '
'No. No, we want no part of any moneylenders.'
'Then shall we say ten per cent of his gross income for one year commencing on the day I deliver the document?'
'Shall we say five per cent commencing the day he's discharged from prison?'
It took Picapleitos six weeks. Meanwhile, we starved.
I don't mean to the point of death. There was something to eat most days, usually a few overripe fish heads in a pan of migas, crumbs fried with garlic in rancid olive oil. But this diet did little more than fight a rearguard action against hunger.
'Enough to keep body and soul together, if God wills,' my pious, pudding-faced sister Luisa put it.
Except for plump Luisa, we were a family of lean people with no fat to live off in an emergency. Luisa was the odd one out in other ways too. Her hair was dark, her complexion olive, while the rest of us had fair complexions and hair ranging from my own bright chestnut to Andrea's glorious wheaten mane. My baby brother Rodrigo even sported some freckles, like a dusting of cinnamon.
In a bare kitchen, we dreamed of food.
Pudding-faced Luisa: 'Fried milk all slathered with honey, please God.'
I: 'Benengeli con queso.' Eggplant baked with cheese; my favourite.
Andrea: 'Not benengeli — it's berengena. Try it.'
But ever since I was two, I always mispronounced eggplant as benengeli. It was almost the first word I spoke. (It would almost be the last.)
'Be- be-' I tried. 'Benengeli!'
'Oh, never mind,' sighed Andrea. Then, with spirit, 'Anyway, don't waste your wishes, Miguelito. Meat! A big pot of stewed rabbit, under a golden crust to hold in the saffron steam! Or lambs' tongues braised in sweet Málaga wine. Or a plump pleasant, I mean peasant, I mean pheasant — simmered in milk with ginger and almonds!' She banged her small fists in frustration on the empty larder shelves and twitched her hips in an odd new way so that, many years later when I was a prisoner in Algiers, the first time I saw the groaning table set for the exotic dancer Zoraida, I remembered my sister Andrea.
Doña Leonor also, in her way, prepared me for Algiers. For even when the family had enough to eat, even when the fish heads were attached to fish bodies and the oil was not rancid, migas were still crumbs, the crumbs of poverty. But, 'Eat your migas,' my mother would warn me, 'or the Barbary pirates will come in the night and get you.'
It was the commonest maternal threat on the seacoasts of Andalucía, where Barbary pirates prowled and where migas, like some culinary plague, were endemic. Most of my early youth was spent there in Andalucía as Rodrigo de Cervantes sought haven from ineptitude and litigation in the less unforgiving south.
'Eat your migas or the Barbary pirates will come in the night and get you.'
I ate my migas — and the pirates bided their time.
One day my father appeared with a paper attesting to his gentility and we, naturally, moved. Rodrigo de Cervantes plied his trade in a dozen towns and villages in the south, and he grew deafer with every season, and we rarely had enough to eat, but Andrea flourished, eight, nine, ten years old, more a beauty each year, and my pudding-faced sister Luisa thought her pure thoughts of God, and my brother Rodrigo was the perfect little soldier with those cinnamon freckles and gaps between his milk teeth. My parents argued (so that in time I thought all parents did, all the time), my father spent more time in debtors' prison despite Picapleitos's document, my sister Magdalena was born with a thatch of red hair. We never stayed put long enough to go to school, not until we settled for a time in Córdoba, but my father taught us all, even my sisters, to read. Doña Leonor didn't mind, even though literacy was a strong indication of a converso hiding in the family tree. Nor did she mind that our nomadic existence made youthful friendships impossible: the children in the towns where Rodrigo de Cervantes found fleeting work were, of course, never good enough for us.
Friendless, lonely, I read. I read everything I could get my hands on. I read the books essential to my father's trade, Lobrera's The Four Diseases, Vigo's The Practice of Surgery, and a serviceable Latin grammar by one Nebrija. I read my father's dog-eared and migas-stained copy of Lazarillo de Tormes, received in payment for curing one of those four diseases. I read about Orlando, furioso and otherwise, in a volume acquired by splinting a broken leg. I read the poetry of Petrarch, that father of humanism — perhaps the one good ism? — presented for the timely application of some leeches. (Knowing no other incomparable girls, I pictured as Petrarch's incomparable Laura my sister Andrea.) I even read summonses for my father's arrest.
But reading, like migas, only fought a rearguard action. I would walk along the dusty, unpaved street of our latest port-of-call and watch boys my age chasing each other or taunting girls or wrestling. Loneliness was a hunger as bad as an empty belly.
Andrea, lonely too, studied herself. I mean this in no Delphic or Socratic sense; but her body, with its unmistakable signs of puberty, fascinated her. That made two of us. Secretly I would watch her run her fingers over the curve of a hip, or with her two hands explore the sleek length of a bare leg, or impatiently cup the not-quite-flatness of her breasts. Spanish girls mature early, especially in the south.
Sometimes Andrea took little Rodrigo on her lap and crooned a gypsy melody to him. I felt left out. But invariably Rodrigo would squirm free to play with a mutilated toy soldier, lacking one hand, which he had found somewhere.
Our grandmother, the other Doña Leonor, Leonor de Torreblanca, came to live with us when her husband Juan the Patriarch decided to spend his declining years in their native Córdoba, taking their eighteen-year-old housekeeper with him. The two Leonors spent hours alternately scorning the Patriarch and disdaining Rodrigo de Cervantes.
The word from Córdoba was that the Patriarch, ensconced there as a magistrate, was squandering the family fortune on his housekeeper and in the gambling den of a Frenchman.
This word came from the Patriarch's twenty-year-old black slave — actually he was only a little darker than a gypsy — called Luis, who, bearing a letter, came one day to the nameless village where we were living near the (to us) great city of Cabra midway between Córdoba and Granada.
'The things that go on in that house,' Luis said with a possibly envious shake of his head. The money that man pisses away at Pierre Papin's.'
Juan the Patriarch had addressed the letter to Rodrigo de Cervantes, so although both Leonors were literate, they waited for my father's return. He came shortly before sunset, bringing in a blast of cold mountain air, his face and fingers blue except for the bloodstains.
'Hello, Luis, what are you doing here?'
'Letter from your old man.' Luis, in the years since the Patriarch had won him from the gambler Pierre Papin, never señor-ed or señora-ed any of them. He claimed he'd been born the son of a mighty prince on some island or other in the Indies.
Rodrigo de Cervantes broke the seal and read. And this poor, well-meaning failure of a husband and father seemed to swell to twice his usual self.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes"
Copyright © 2011 Stephen Marlowe.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part the First The Death of Miguel de Cervantes,
I Being an Exploration of the Columbus Connection And Other Family Matters of Consequence,
II In Which My Grandfather Loses an Argument And My Sister and I Share a Dream,
III In Which the Crown Prince Falls Downstairs,
IV In Which the Beautiful Two-Thousand-Two-Hundred-Gold-Ducat Baby Spurns the New World,
V In Which I Visit the Palace with High Hopes And Leave with a Price on My Head,
VI The Friends of Rizio Rizione,
VII How I Become a Parrot, And Numerous Other Wonders Including The Old Cypriot's Tale,
IX In Which My Brother and I Are Rewarded for Our Heroism,
X In Which I Become a Slave in Algiers And Meet Cide Hamete Benengeli On His Deathmat,
X In Which I Rewrite a Scene From an Unstaged Play And Make My First Attempt to Escape,
XII Meanwhile, Back in Madrid,
XIII In Which I Save My Brother's Life At the Peril of My Own,
XV Dangerous Games,
XVII The Death of Miguel de Cervantes As Related by Himself,
Part the Second The Life of Miguel de Cervantes,
XVIII The Snares and Disillusions of Love,
XIX Learning to Cope with April 23rd,
XX In Which a Secret Of Some Significance Is Revealed,
XXI The Deeds of Garcilaso de la Vega And Tarfe the Moor,
XXII The Hostal in Bayona Street,
XXIII In Which I Am Excommunicated And Declared Anathema, And in Which Worse Things Happen,
XXIV More Dangerous Games,
XXV In Which Mnemosyne Is Forgotten And I Receive a Letter from Home,
XXVI In Which I Visit the Bench of If-Only,
XXVII On the Old Road Again,
XXVIII Concerning Various Unexpected Developments Found in This Story and No Other,
XXIX In Which the New Innominate of the Nameless Is Named,
XXX Adrift on the Sea of Love And Elsewhere,
XXXI The Birth of Don Quixote And the Death of Christopher Marlowe,
XXXII The Extraordinary Events at Loose Chippings,
XXXIII "That Time May Cease And Midnight Never Come",
XXXIV The Fateful Adventure Of the Flying Horse Clavileño And Other Impossibilities,
XXXV Fifty Pounds of Raisins And Three Bushels of Wheat,
XXXVI The 229th Virgin, Found At Last,
XXXVII A Thousand Leagues from Everywhere,