The Quixote Imbroglio, That Which Remains of The Burden of Honor
Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse Books, 2005
Reviewed by Nicole Terrien
Zolen Caló is an American writer of Romanian, Austrian and Spanish descent who has published seven other novels and some poetry. The Quixote Imbroglio, a novel, feeds on this multicultural heritage and insists on the clash that, hopefully, only precedes the marriage of cultures.
The prologue set in 1504 stages the death of Don Quixote and the last words addressed by the knight to his faithful servant set the tone: “Just sail westward. Lay a foundation of honor for the new order that is to arise from whatever fertile shore you find your disembarkation” [VI]. Thus the Spanish literary dream becomes part of the American dream expanded beyond the official borders of the United States.
The next twenty chapters plus the epilogue take place in today’s Honduras where a multitude of destinies meet even when the characters themselves never do. Each chapter is split in scenes set in various Honduran locations, each associated with specific characters. The reader faces an imbroglio of sorts as it takes time to recognize who is who and how the subplots in fact converge to create the fairly complex story of the heirs of Sancho, now bearing the name of Quixano.
A couple of North American intellectuals, in search of a simpler and cheaper life, make their way through all the difficulties that await the Gringos brave enough to face a country still the prey of an underdeveloped economy and of overdeveloped red-tape and corruption. The reader discovers this new old world mainly through their eyes.
First the Quixanos: Jacopo, the teenager who suffers from pride and stupidity but turns into an endearing dummy. He will fall in love with Angelina, an “abandonned one,” a girl who has been brought up to become a prostitute in her aunt’s café but who rebels to protect her fatherless child. After a long and painful training that brings them to the verge of civilization under the benevolent scrutiny of Carmen (he is trained as a waiter, a symbol of social success because it represents the art of mimicry), the two adolescents defy authority and make love and are therefore banished from the paradise provided by their American protectors. They quickly meet their death as they come back to real life. Angelina and the baby are killed by two rapists, who had sworn vengeance against the rebellious girl, and Jacopo is shot by a professional, albeit stupid killer, while trying to save his uncle Amadis also guilty of rebellion against the local mafioso Coyote.
Amadis, Jacopo’s uncle symbolises the fight of the true Quixano for honesty and honour, as a farmer he manages to challenge the ever-growing power of a new form of capitalism. His purpose is to stick to a traditional way of life preserving the independence of each family. This means of course the acceptance of poverty and the refusal of a North American way of life. His being doomed to die for his ideas almost makes him a romantic hero but also contributes to the disturbing pessimism of the book.
Osorio, Jacopo’s father, is a more complex character who tries to understand the Gringo’s code of values and who accepts to question his own. He works as a gardener, a security guard but also performs all sorts of menial tasks as the self appointed help of the Dalys. In spite of his goodwill and his sense of relativity, he mainly embodies the constant pain endured by the exiles, who can never enjoy their privacy and must deal with the endless mistakes made by the locals. Even if the narrative voice suggests that the cultural divide should be acknowledged, the natives end up looking hopelessly inefficient. Even if misunderstanding leads to humorous scenes, the reader feels overwhelmed by the repetitions of errors and sympathises with the gringos more often than not. So much for open-mindedness.
Then the other Hondurans : Marcela, Osorio’s fellow servant, who cooks for the Dalys but also for their rich Honduran neighbours. Through womanly love she quickly connects with Carmen who will support her at the end of the plot when she finds herself pregnant with the baby of her Honduran employer.
Several secondary characters haunt the stage and complete the illusion of reality by providing a wider representation of society. Finally the North Americans: The dishonest missionaries appear as caricatures of televangelists and give a fairly realistic vision of the adoption trade developed by unscrupulous Americans. The embassy attaché takes part in the racket and embodies the exaggerated fear of the Americans for any kind of difference, be it cultural, linguistic or culinary-difference becomes a threat to the safety of the American representatives. Again, the humour created through exaggeration fails to enlighten the didactic tone, and the attempt at political correctness often sounds so artificial that the effect produced may well be exactly the opposite of the narrator’s expectations.
The Dalys, whose quest justifies the plot, suffer from a similar defect of characterization. In their obsession for cleanliness, their love for the picturesque and the local craft, their wish for frank and equal relationships with their servants and in their other idiosyncrasies they too often appear as caricatures. To mimic Cervantes’s sense of humour does not always work in the twenty-first century novel. This of course is an opinion open to debate. Symbolically, they move into a house that needs repair and beautifying. The unusual colour picked up by Carmen turns the villa into an assertion of the self.
In the epilogue Villa Entrémedias remains the place in-between, where values may merge and shape a new social contract. “We are an unlikely knot of people caught upon a stratum called Pena, Grief an unstable zone within view of heaven’s gates…where we find ourselves Quixotes all, all embroiled, all in some some kind of…some kind of…Quixote imbroglio”. As the book itself, it is not perfect, it remains weak but offers some interesting views of a dazzling scenery and as a castle in the air it vindicates the right to dream, in particular to imagine a better future for Amada’s baby symbolically named by Mr Daly and Osorio under the patronage of Carmen: Honor de Quixano Daly. Whether we share the dream is another matter.