Continuing with this series started with Don Quixote post, I will go through the series of Captain Alatriste, a historical set of novels written by the contemporary bestseller Arturo Perez-Reverte.
Taking place in the XVII Century after the publications of Don Quixote and Cervantes’ passing away, Captain Alatriste is based on a real soldier nicknamed ‘captain’ before his surname (Diego was is name). Friend of the poet Francisco de Quevedo, this war veteran alternates battles in diverse parts of Europe with swordsman tasks in Madrid, always having certain ethics despite being violent when he must be, making his life much harder as a result.
Like Don Quixote, a man with honour, courage, and generosity as he adopts the other main character of the series, Iñigo de Balboa, when he is a child and his father dies in action when he is with the Captain and his widow asks him to bring their son up as a soldier’s apprentice (“paje”) since the family has no money to sustain him. Later on, developing his career in the army and the court, Don Iñigo wrote his memoirs through which we have gotten to know Alatriste.
Several remarks can be made about this work and his author. First, the latter used to be a war correspondent and is well known for being outspoken thanks to his independence in financial terms and returning favours (i.e. not owing anything to anybody), rare qualities those days. In a subtler way than usual, he also expressed his critical view of a soap opera about those novels that was produced in 2015 and quickly ended as a big failure.
The movie premier in 2006 had a good reception by both public and critics, featuring Viggo Mortensen as Alatriste. One anecdote from his preparation comes from the land where the Captain and, ehem, my mom are from: León, in the Region of Castilla y Leon (North-West Continental Spain). To better understand the mentality of the inhabitants and how Alatriste should have been, the actor went for several weeks to a small village there. Not having much to do and as an important part of Spain’s popular culture, he went to the only bar in town, just being asked (not in a very welcoming manner) what he wanted. The following day he returned to his new ‘local’. Without saying a word or even looking at him beyond the strictly necessary, the barman served him the same drink. Days went by and little by little Viggo started becoming friends with the barman and other people from the place. It was only some time later when somebody identified who this stranger was. Anyway, Mr. Mortensen not only learned some lessons, but also liked how those inhabitants behaved and the authenticity with which he had been treated.
With regards to this anecdote, it must be noted that in other parts of Spain a stranger would not have had that cold welcoming and warm farewell.
In the movie, there is also a scene in which the work of the Painter Diego Velazquez can be seen while it is transported: The Surrender of Breda. We will talk about him in another post.
The legend of Captain Alatriste also reaches restaurants: in the same area of Madrid City Centre where he used to live and go out, “La Taberna del Capitán Alatriste” brings us to that era with decoration (including a replica of the previously mentioned painting), furniture and, of course, food and wine that are comparable to those surrounding our character and his friends. On the personal side, I ate there some months ago and was satisfied with the whole experience.
A similarity that I find in Alatriste and today’s Spanish society is that the honour prevails over doing certain things or changing habits, which sometimes has negative consequences on innovation.
Final note: it is unlikely that Captain Alatriste will be recognised in literature terms in the future. However, many of us have found it very entertainment, encouraging teenagers and non-habitual readers to read. It has also hugely contributed Mr. Perez-Reverte’s bottom line and has had some influence on him getting the assignment of a seat at the Spanish Royal Academy (“Real Academia de la Lengua”), our institution overseeing the Spanish Language in alignment with other language academies from Hispanophone countries.
Have you read any volume of Capitan Alatriste? Did you watch the movie? Did you like them? What is your take on Arturo Perez-Reverte?
Links of Interest:
Amazon, Captain Alatriste
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Las otras vidas de Alatriste (The other lifes of Alatriste) (Author’s Offical Website)
Biography, Viggo Mortensen
El Pais, 16 unwritten rules of living in a Spanish village
Estandarte, Perez-Reverte sutil contra Alatriste
La Taberna del Capitán Alatriste, History
Photos: Arturo Perez-Reverte. Cover page of the English edition of the first volume of Captain Alatriste. Captain Alatriste movie poster with Viggo Mortensen. Captain Alatriste Restaurant, with a replica of Velazquez’s painting “The Surrender of Breda”.