Doña Quixote and Other Citizens: A Portrait (‘Doña Quixote’, 1983) reads like a string of impressions of place and feeling, made by a character that comes to us only as a vague impression himself: like a reflection of a reflection of a reflection, we are lost in a maze of mirrors where reality and consciousness crash.
The narrator is a person of unknown gender and age, wandering through a strange city that seems to be made of glass, melting ice, slim trees, and distorted mirrors. We follow his/her voice through a series of interconnected vignettes, which revolves around one of the narrator’s friends, the mysterious Doña Quixote.
In fact, the narrator might well be some kind of Sancho Panza. Together, they wander through spaces full of light, rooms of time and change, in a city made of stone and small glass towers, as bright as lighthouses. Maybe they are stuck in a room that moves through time and within itself; or maybe they are in the middle of a journey inwards. We don’t know – this is such a strange book, that we seem to be moving in circles, along with our narrator, ever deeply into the inside. Doña Quixote may be our Virgil, or a seer, or nobody at all.
We begin by following our narrator through a funfair mirror maze, where all the lights are suddenly off, and the narrator gets lost among the mirrors, turning into his/her own reflections in the dark. Then we have a character living inside a question that disappears; another one looking straight into the point of one’s nonexistence; and yet another one dreaming an empty dream.
The city our narrator wanders through keeps moving, as if it were alive. It may by a place in a story by Jorge Luis Borges, or in a book by Italo Calvino – a place devoid of concrete features. It reads like a ghostly world, where everything dissolves at the slightest touch. It may even be just a place inside a dream, constantly turning into something else.
Perhaps we are moving inside someone’s consciousness: nothing in this city exists on its own, but only through the mediation of the narrator’s feelings and perceptions. In fact, the most concrete things are abstract: grief rises like a wave, the characters’ inner lives open up like rooms, and everything seems to be under the threat of a great disaster that never really comes to materialise.
By the end, we are left with the uncomfortable feeling that we have intruded upon the narrator’s dream, and someone just woke us up: we are left only with the vaguest impression of having found something beautiful on the way – something that, like our memory of the dream itself, seems to be about to fade away.
I thought that if I were to spend longer with my reflections, I would become confused with them, and no one would be able to say any longer where they had their origin. – Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens
Nowhere is the darkness so deep as in the House of Laughter. From mirror to mirror it repeats itself and deepens, rises in a scream from the mirror’s well only to fall into another chasm. Its echo is stronger than the scream itself. – Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens
She looked straight into my non-existence, at the spot where there is something like a needle-prick, but so deep that one could throw all one’s belongings into it, one’s memory and one’s doubts, one’s demands and one’s subterfuges – yes, all one’s life – and there would still be nothing at all there. ‘I had a question in which I lived for a long time,’ she said. ‘Many years. And one day I remembered I had forgotten it. It had gone, and from that I knew that I had received an Answer.’ – Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens
All through the dream, nothing moved; the dream itself was an empty, green cell that made a sound. It called incessantly, reverberating as if it were ringing out in a very open space, in a night-time station hall or the depths of the past. But there was no one to answer it, for although it was I who dreamed the dream, I was not there either. – Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens
‘Why do they forget you so quickly?’ I ask, unhappily. She thinks. Her violet gaze comes from an unimaginable distance. ‘If they remembered me, they would remember their unhappiness,’ she says. – Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens
When I follow the signs he makes with his hands, I remember an Indian dancer who visited the city years ago. I was unhappy when I went to see her performance, and I was unhappy when the performance was over. But in between, while I watched her body live as though it were not a human body but a flower’s corolla, a flame, a beam of light, a lovely creature or something matter is perhaps intended to be, but that it always betrays and forgets – in between, as her brilliant sari fluttered and her wrists, her ankles, stretched, rose – I saw clearly that life, that joy . . . – Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens
And as I struggle in the darkness to bar the door to the procession of humiliation and disappointment, regret and shame, bitterness and misunderstanding, fear and loss, it rises, the thing that was still a moment ago, the grief of my faceless room-mate, rises as high as Hokusai’s wave, and I hear the thundering I know has always, incessantly, sounded around my mean, closed, dry life. – Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens
We went to walk on the shore. It was a day when everything was breaking and melting, vanishing and lifting, the kind of day when all that is old seems to be disappearing and there is not yet anything new to take its place. – Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens
No, they do not conceal anything. Everything is here: visible and before me. Everything is precisely what it is, openly, every day. If reality has a secret, then it is this nakedness that is transparent. – Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens
About the book
- Carcanet Press, 1996, tr. Hildi Hawkins, 226 p. Goodreads
- Cheeky Frawg Books, 2015, various translators, 871 p. Goodreads
- Original title: Donna Quijote ja muita kaupunkilaisia: Muotokuvia
- First published in 1983
- My rating: 4 stars
- I read this book for R.I.P. – R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril & Backpack Through Europe Summer Reading Challenge