March 21, 2018

Don Quixote gets scrambled into an e-book about the mafia after a Spanish court bans the original


An ingenious attempt at bypassing censorship in Spain has led a bookseller’s association to reconfigure passages from Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote for online consumption. For the Telegraph, James Badcock reports on the unusual case of journalist Nacho Carretero’s Fariña, a 2015 exposé on drug smuggling and mafia connections in Spain. The government has devoted considerable energy to shutting down its publication.

According to Badcock, a Madrid court banned the book last week after a libel suit against the author and the publisher. One of the real-life characters in the book—José Alfredo Bea Gondar, the former mayor of a small town on the Galician coast—claims certain scenarios concerning his character in the book are completely false. They hint at his alleged connections with Colombia’s Cali cartel — incidents that led to a conviction for drug-smuggling. The sentence was eventually overturned by the Spanish supreme court. Carretero has diligently updated each edition of the book.

The booksellers’ association at the helm of this project, the “Gremio Librerias De Madrid” organization, felt this a direct attack against freedom of speech in their country by the government. They then set up a website that uses specific software to search Don Quixote for each word found within Fariña, and then reorganize it into the appropriate order to reproduce the 2015 book. But what about words that show up after the seventeenth century, when that most influential Spanish book was first published? Well, then the software searches syllable by syllable to spell out what it needs.

Badcock quotes the secretary of the organization, Fernando Valverde:

“We discovered that all the words of Fariña were contained one way or another in Don Quixote, and it was just a case of finding a mechanism to make them appear in the right order… It’s a metaphor for the fact that in the digital era you can seize a book, but you cannot gag words.”



Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.