Carlos Fuentes' inaugural speech at the International Literature Festival Berlin, on 6 September 2005.
Carlos Fuentes celebrates the democratic revolution set in motion by Cervantes' novel Don Quixote, and the dialogue of civilisations created by "world literature".
Not long ago, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters addressed one hundred writers from all over the world with a single question: name the novel that you consider the best ever written.
Of the one hundred consulted, fifty answered: Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.
Quite a landslide, considering the runners up: Dostoevsky, Faulkner and García Márquez, in that order.
The results of this consultation pose the interesting question of the long-seller versus the best-seller. There is, of course, no answer that fits all cases: why does a best-seller sell, why does a long-seller last?
Don Quixote was a big bestseller when it first appeared in 1605 and has continued to sell ever since, whereas William Faulkner was definitively a bad seller if you compare the meagre sales of Absalom, Absalom (1936) to those of the really big-seller of the year, Hervey Allen’s Anthony Adverse, a Napoleonic saga of love, war and trade.
Which means that there is no actual thermometer in these matters, even if time will not only tell: time will sell.
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