John Dos Passos (1896–1970)
From John Dos Passos: Travel Books & Other Writings 1916–1941
Earlier this month, the global library cooperative OCLC used its giant WorldCat database to determine the top 500 novels of all time, based on the number of copies available in libraries. Leading the pack was Cervantes’s Don Quixote.
It wasn’t the first time the classic Spanish novel had topped a list; it had previously made #1 on Robert McCrum’s hotly debated top 100 list for The Observer in 2003, and a Norwegian survey of 100 well-known authors from fifty-four countries came up with the same result.
Many American writers have been inspired by the Gentleman of La Mancha; this influence is particularly obvious in the early writings of John Dos Passos. His travel essays about Iberian culture, eventually collected in his fourth book, Rosinante on the Road Again (Rocinante is the name of Quixote’s horse), assert that much of Spanish culture and thought is based on the motif that “life is a dream.”
For the book publication Dos Passos interspersed a series of fictional sketches describing the journey from Madrid to Toledo by a pair of young travelers, whose personalities echo the characters of Don Quixote and his sidekick, Sancho Panza. In one tale they meet up with a man on a donkey and another on a horse—creating a literary hall of mirrors that only an author like Cervantes could have inspired. We present that installment, “Talk by the Road,” as our Story of the Week selection.