Image Credit: Birdy
With the arrival of our puppy, Zorro, in the past month or so, I seem to be reading much slower. But even Zorro’s charms could not keep me away from reading, especially a book like “The Lost Diary of Don Juan” by Douglas Carlton Abrams. Let me give you the brief from the book jacket:
Raised by nuns, Don Juan’s ambitions towards the priesthood soon fall to the wayside. Evicted from the convent, he is taken under the wing of the Marquis de la Mota, who tutors him in skills both courtly and amorous – and provides him with the protection of the King, saving him from the wrath of the Inquisition. Yet it is only when Don Juan embarks on the most perilous adventure of all – falling in love – that he finds his life truly in danger…
Now who can resist a summary such as this? Although most scholars have denied the existence of Don Juan himself, a small group does also believe that he is more than fictional character.
All this was enough to rouse my curiosity, so I was soon lost with Don Juan and his various amores in 16th century Spain. Don Juan’s portrait emerges slowly as he flits from woman to woman and lets us into his beliefs about life in the process. “The only secret I have used to unlock the bedchambers of the women I have known is their own unquenched thirst for life. The greatest power in the world, greater than kings and popes, is the desire of women. Love, the priests tell us, rules the heavens, but does desire not rule the earth?"
As we read, we realize that Don Juan is not all flirt and fun. He has a vulnerable side to him as well. The impression we get of him is that of a man who masks his emotions and hides behind his dalliance. His true self has long been buried under layers of stolen kisses, hidden embraces and passionate lovemaking that is momentarily satisfactory. While the mere thought of Don Juan makes many ladies blush, he himself remains unmoved. Yet, we learn that the sighs of many women fail to soothe his loneliness. Until he meets Dona Ana. And then he is taken in by a feeling that had been locked away deep within.
I know Don Juan’s sketch sounds like the terribly clichéd chivalrous man who does not show his true emotions. But what elevates him above this cliché is his straightforward and blunt manner, which acknowledges his loneliness, the painfulness of his past and his unscrupulous dalliances. He tells his friend and coachman Cristobal, “You know me better than that. I am incapable of love or marriage.” He endears himself to us through his principle of seduction –he targets only lonely housewives and he believes that “A chambermaid’s modesty is as important to her as an Infanta’s is to the Empire.”
The book tends to sag a bit in the middle with a lull in Don Juan’s life and his pining for Dona Ana. Towards the end the action picks up again and we are again following him over rooftops and on horseback as he escapes and chases alternatively. I wouldn’t say I loved the book but I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it either. I enjoyed a lot of it, especially since it’s laced with a bit of wry humor. I also felt a bit bored too and I did skip a few paragraphs here and there. The last 50 pages or so were the best. Don Juan did not seduce me as much as he did the other ladies but ironically his respect towards women did impress me. I will leave you with my favorite quote from the book –
“Fear is a thief, Cristobal. Don’t let it steal your life.”
Verdict: Fun read. Some really nice quotes here and there.