No Ordinary Man

By Ernest Hemingway’s definition of heroism as “grace under pressure,” Miguel de Cervantes is clearly heroic. Son of a distinguished family that fell on hard times, Cervantes was forced to flee his native Spain following a duel. Self-exiled to Italy, he redeemed himself when he was wounded at the Battle of Lapardo in Spain’s war against the Ottomans.

Cervantes attracted favorable attention from Commander Don John of Austria and the Duke of Sessa, both of whom gave him letters of commendation. He had these letters with him when, in 1575, Barbary pirates kidnapped him and sold him into slavery in Algeria. These letters saved his life when his four escape attempts were thwarted. In 1580, he was ransomed and returned to Spain.

His adventures provided material for his most celebrated work, the picaresque Don Quixote, generally acknowledged to be the first modern novel in Spanish literature. Despite broad public acceptance of his writing, Cervantes profited little financially from his literary successes. A man of irrefutable integrity, he was frequently strained financially, serving two terms in debtors’ prison before his death in 1616.

Donald P. McCrory provides useful and accurate backdrops of Spanish history during Cervantes’s lifetime. His accounts of the author’s five years of slavery in Algeria, including harrowing tales of the four escape attempts, reveal a Cervantes who, even under the duress of enslavement, commanded the genuine respect of those who dealt with him, slaves and masters alike. A bibliography, detailed chronology, and useful index complete this work.