September 25, 2005
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Commonplace: Menocal

But this tragic story – the story of forgetting a past in Toledo where there is a church with an homage to Arabic writing on it walls, and where there is a sumptuous 14th-century synagogue built to look like Granada's Alhambra, and where Europe's richest libraries and most industrious translators of philosophical and scientific texts once sat — is inseparable from the other stories of the age that culminates with Don Quixote de La Mancha and the expulsion of the Moriscos. Cervantes' novel is framed, laid out for us, as the child — the stepchild — of that history, grotesquely transformed: Arabic books are now rags being peddled to the poor merchant in the streets of a Jewish quarter where no Jews can live, and these books will be translated by the barest remnants of a Muslim, a man who must pretend to be Christian and who, tragically, cannot really read Arabic.