The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes
Publication Date: December 31, 2004
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Spain has produced two books that changed world literature: Don Quixote and Lazarillo de Tormes, the first picaresque novel ever written and the inspired precursor to works as various as Vanity Fair and Huckleberry Finn. Banned by the Spanish Inquisition after publication in 1554, Lazarillo was soon translated throughout Europe, where it was widely copied. The book is a favorite to this day for its vigorous colloquial style and the earthy realism with which it exposes human hypocrisy.
The bastard son of a prostitute, Lazarillo goes to work for a blind beggar, who beats and starves him, while teaching him some very useful dirty tricks. The boy then drifts in and out of the service of a succession of masters, each vividly sketched and together revealing the corrupt world of imperial Spain. Its miseries are made all the more apparent by the candor and surprising good cheer with which young Lazarillo recounts his ever more curious fate.
This version of Lazarillo, by the prizewinning poet and translator W.S. Merwin, brings out the wonderful vitality and humor of this universal masterwork.
The author of Lazarillo de Tormes is unknown.
Juan Goytisolo was born in Barcelona in 1931 and now lives in Marrakesh. He is the author of many novels, including Marks of Identity, Count Julian, Juan the Landless, and The Garden of Secrets, as well as two volumes of autobiography.
W.S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and in Scranton, Pennsylvania. From 1949 to 1951 he worked as a tutor in France, Portugal, and Majorca. He has since lived in many parts of the world, most recently on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. He is the author of many books of poems, prose, and translations and has received both the Pulitzer and the Bollingen Prizes for poetry, among numerous other awards.
"Lazarillo‘s success was immediate and its popularity enormous. As for its impact on the literary imagination, suffice to say that it was the cornerstone for the entire structure of the modern novel."
— Francisco Ayala
"My readings and rereadings of Lazarillo never disappoint me. The protagonist is a live creation, a boy who becomes adept in the daily struggle for existence, endures a series of bitter experiences, discovers the world’s injustices, and adapts pragmatically to them….[Lazaro’s path] is the path pursued by the unstable, transitory character of the modern novel….[He is] our contemporary!"
— From the Introduction by Juan Goytisolo