Book Review: Don Quixote Goes to Yale by Eytan Halaban


Don Quixote Goes to Yale
Eytan Halaban 
Firstbooks, 2017 

4 Stars


Eytan Halaban has turned New Haven, CT into a city of stories. As the backdrop to his most compelling novels (The Vermeer Conspiracy and The Last Commission), Halaban has given us an authentic New Haven as a background doing a wonderful job of bringing the protagonists we encounter in his novels to the fore. It is a not so much a subtle move as an accomplished, foundational one; it is a hallmark of the sure architecture of a gifted storyteller.

Don Quixote Goes to Yale is yet another savvy novel giving readers a supremely confident and engaging story.

We meet Michael, about to graduate Yale with a promising Wall Street future thanks to the kind of networking only such an institution can offer. He has a genuinely loving relationship with his girlfriend Liz, and yet a voice nags at him to follow a different path. This is the first twist in the novel done so casually as though it’s a common thing we almost fail to realize just how vital it will be. Michael has Boomie, an imaginary friend, who declares early on “‘When You read Don Quixote, you need me. I’m always here for you when you need me most.'” He also goes on to convince Michael to follow a treasure map within the story of Don Quixote–hijinks ensue. 

Through Boomie’s prompting, Michael gives us a wonderfully insightful reading of the great novel of Cervantes. Halaban has a way of making literary analysis a game, the puzzle of exegesis. And every game has to have stakes and a payoff, which our author provides us in due course. 

One of Halaban’s gifts is to make artworks or, rather, how we think of them, imagine them, into not just the means for drama and intrigue but also as objects that take possession of the protagonists to bring out all their highest abilities. In the process, revealed to us and them is an unknown underworld of nefarious intent to be challenged and defeated. It is at once complicated and direct, simple and difficult making for a quality thriller.

But what I enjoy most about Don Quixote Goes to Yale are the lyrical moments Michael experiences as his whirlwind obsession takes him around the world,

“The shadows resolved to the starlit horizon once again, and Michael sighed. He rolled his translation back around the parchment, hit safely away once more, and moved his backpack behind his head as a pillow, while he waited and watched the sky. 

That was the problem with stars, he mused. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, more come out of hiding, shifting the constellations.”

Through Michael, Halaban captures the elusiveness of literary understanding. But we also get a young man searching obsessively for a metaphorical and actual treasure while striving to figure out what is most valuable to him, how he is most valuable to others. Halaban writes Michael and Liz’s relationship wonderfully with each character being fully formed, flush and believable. In fact, Liz is more than just a side character, she is, arguably, the driving force of the story whereas Michael is merely our premise. The two weave together so well readers find themselves deeply invested which is a trick of only the best storytellers.

Don Quixote Goes to Yale is a literary adventure tale, one that promises much and delivers.


Author Bio

Eytan Halaban has been writing, editing, and telling stories for decades.  For the past twenty years, he has been a Resident Fellow in Davenport College, Yale University, mentoring student filmmakers and writers. His previous publications include the novels The Kid From NaphtaliThe Perfect Wish, The Vermeer Conspiracy, and The Last Commission.

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