These stranger-than-fiction adventures of the "Spanish Shakespeare" as a spy, soldier, hostage, tax collector, poet, playwright, and creator of Don Quixote incorporate original research and previously unpublished material.
Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), somewhere between Renaissance man and jack-of-all-trades, underwent his own implausible reversals of fortune and twists of fate before he inflicted the same on a fictional knight of La Mancha as McCrory illustrates in this serviceable biography. After fleeing Spain as a young man because of a duel, Cervantes briefly landed in Italy and joined the army in time for the decisive naval battle of Lepanto against the Ottoman Empire. What should have been a comparatively triumphant return to Spain by a wounded veteran with a recommendation from the celebrated commander Don John of Austria, however, turned upside down when he and his brother were captured by Algerian pirates and held for ransom for four years. Finally returned to Spain after a last-minute reprieve from the galleys, Cervantes went from one job to another, serving as court petitioner, civil servant and itinerant tax collector, and suffering two terms of imprisonment over financial dealings. Success and fame came late in life, after Cervantes had attempted a little poetry and then embarked on picaresque fictions, including arguably the last work of chivalry and the first modern novel. Compared with his contemporary Shakespeare, Cervantes has a relatively complete documentary record, although McCrory (head of Hispanic studies at American International University in London) must caulk over the gaps in cause and motive with inference and supposition. Nonetheless, this biography incorporates recent research and rounds out the basic facts of Cervantes's life with political and economic information, from the workings of Philip II's court to the massive financing of the Armada, but fails to bring to life the vivid literary scene of the time. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.