Chateaubriand's "Les Aventures du Dernier Abencerage"
It took me three weeks, but I have finally finished "Les Aventures du Dernier Abencerage." And despite the language barrier, I still found myself swept into this tale of passion (Chateaubriand is considered the father of French Romanticism, after all) and faith and homeland. Aben-Hamet is the last Abencerage - the last of a tribe of Moors that were exiled from their original home in Spain. He has heard the stories of his people's valiant fight and ultimate defeat throughout his life and decides one day to embark on a project in his native land. We don't learn the details of his plan until the end, and in the meantime, he meets and falls in love with Blanca de Bivar. Blanca just happens to be a descendant of the conquering Spanish hero, Le Cid. Also, she is a devout Christian, and Aben-Hamet is an equally devout Muslim. Oh, and did I mention her brother and his enduring hatred of the Moors? There's a lot in this little story and much of it is thought-provoking even today. I won't reveal the ending as I found it most satisfying to discover on my own. Suffice it to say, the ending had the appropriate level of complexity for a reader (me!) that prefers less resolution to more.
As I was just trying to understand what I was reading, I'm sure there were many passages that I missed the beauty of, but there were some that came through even my meager translation abilities. For instance, I liked this description of Aben-Hamet's love, Blanca de Bivar:
Tout était séduction dans cette femme enchanteresse; sa voix était ravissante; sa danse, plus légère que le zéphyr: tantôt elle se plaisait a guider un char comme Armide, tantôt elle volait sure le dos du plus rapide coursier d'Andalousie, comme ces fées charmantes qui apparaissaient a Tristan et a Galaor dans les forets. (17)
Without a doubt, the challenge of reading in another language is a fun intellectual exercise. It is nothing at all like my normal reading experience, but I enjoyed it and will look forward to making one more effort at translation before Paris in July reaches its conclusion.