Monsignor Quixote, as the title implies, is Graham Greene’s tribute to Cervantes’s opus magnum. I read Don Quixote in my teens, and though many lofty themes were naturally lost on me, I loved the spirit of that book and the character of a raving-mad knight imposter taking on windmills, wearing a barber’s basin for a helmet.
Greene has done a brilliant job of bringing Don Quixote into the twentieth century and making him relevant. Father Quixote, the Don’s supposed descendant, is as endearing as his famous forefather. His travelling companion, the Mayor of El Toboso, is his answer to Sancho Panza. Like their namesakes 300 hundred years earlier, they too embark on a life-asserting journey, driving Rocinante (no longer a horse, but a rusty old car with a soul). Their road-trip is plagued with difficulties: they are pursued by Guardia and briefly held hostage by a marauding convict (whom they aid and abate out of the goodness of their hearts). They overindulge in wine and food. There is never a dull moment!
Behind their outrageous adventures hides a momentous discourse about the triumph of basic humanity over two totalitarian concepts: religion and communism. The idle conversations between the two protagonists where Father Quixote defends the virtues of Catholicism and the Mayor the ideas of communism, are priceless. I relished the humour, the irony and the warmth of those debates. The two adversaries’ ability to reconcile their differences without compromising their beliefs and to preserve their friendship restores one’s faith in humanity.