Summary from Goodreads:
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.
Being Spanish, I should have read this book in high school. I started it, but couldn't get into it, so I sparknoted my way through that particular exam. It was a huge gap in my classics knowledge, so I decided to start the year with this novel. After all, it is really short. I couldn't have chosen better. I was surprised by how well this novel stands the test of time.
The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes was published in 1554. To put that in context, Don Quixote was published in 1604, 50 years later. It is really old, and I was afraid that the language would be a barrier. Fortunately, that wasn't the case - old Spanish sounds funny, but it is easily understandable. This novel set the bases of the picaresque novels, since it follows the adventures of Lázaro de Tormes, a rogue who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. I haven't read much from that genre, but know a thing or two about rogues, who are represented widely in fantasy, videogames and role-playing games. How awesome is it that this classic novel started it all?
It packs a harsh critic to the hypocritical Spanish society of the time, which I find all the more relevant nowadays because of our current economical and political situation. The young Lázaro, the bastard son of a prostitute and half-brother to a mulatto, has no trade, no money and impious origins: he is in a rough place. He finds a way of earning a living by becoming the apprentice of a blind beggar, who teaches him the skills of a rogue. This first episode is my least favorite and it is exactly where I stopped the first time I tried to read Lazarillo. It is bleak, sad and revolting. This time, I decided to go on, and I was in for a treat. Once Lázaro runs out of patience with the constant abuse of the beggar, he has his revenge and abandons his master. Then, Lázaro goes from master to master in search of a safe position, and every episode is funnier than the previous one, in spite of all the miseries he has to endure.
After the beggar, he serves a priest, a squire, a friar, a pardoner, a chaplain, a bailiff and finally, and archbishop. The harshest critic is against the church members - the priest starves him almost to death, the friar frequents prostitutes, the pardoner swindles people out of their savings and the archbishop has an affair with a maid, who ends up marrying Lázaro to silence rumours. All of them preach something and do the very opposite. For this reason, The Life was published anonymously to avoid being judged by the Spanish Inquisition - it is very blunt in its critic. The ending itself is rather bittersweet, since Lázaro secures a position by becoming one of the people he despises - he is falsely pious and he sacrifices spiritual happiness in favor of material well-being. I'm glad I read it!
See what others have to say:
Leggygal @ Fictional Fix said "It is impressive that such an old work is so easily accessible - both literally and figuratively. [...] The novella [...] is, put simply, a hoot. The twisting, picaresque tale of the eponymous 'hero' who is a delightful innocent that goes from one drama to another." (Full review)
Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!
This book is part of the Everything España Reading Challenge 2014 and for the Second Chance category of the Reading Outside the Box Challenge 2014 that I'm participating in.