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Book News: Tilting At Windmills? Radar Used To Search For Cervantes' Remains

Technicians sweep an area of the Convent of las Trinitarias Descalzas using ground-penetrating radar to search for the remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes four centuries after his death.
Gerard Julien
AFP/Getty Images
Technicians sweep an area of the Convent of las Trinitarias Descalzas using ground-penetrating radar to search for the remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes four centuries after his death.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • A team of scholars and technicians in Spain are using radar to search for the burial place of Miguel de Cervantes, Spain's most celebrated writer. The author of Don Quixote died in 1616 and was buried at the Convent of las Trinitarias Descalzas in Madrid, but no one knows the exact spot. Reporting from Spain, Lauren Frayer tells NPR's Newscast Desk that "the nuns are making way for technicians using ground-penetrating radar" to search for the remains of the man often compared to Shakespeare because of the massive scope of his influence. She adds, "Cervantes served in the Spanish navy and survived a gunshot wound to his chest. He had only six teeth, and a crippled left hand — details that could help scientists identify his body." The search will focus on the ground and walls of the oldest part of the convent, according to the BBC. It quotes search leader Luis Avial as saying, "The radar cannot tell you whether it is the body of the writer, but it can indicate the place of burial."
  • Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie and dozens of other celebrated authors have signed a letter protesting the imprisonment of Uighur writer and economist Ilham Tohti in China. Tohti, who teaches at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing and founded the website Uighur Online, was detained in January and later charged with separatism. The letter, printed in The Guardian, reads: "We understand that he could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty if convicted on this baseless charge. ... Mr Tohti founded Uighur Online with the express purpose of promoting understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese, and he has never advocated violence or promoted a political agenda. Instead, his website has served as a critically important counterpoint to the aggressive measures that Xi Jinping's administration has imposed against the Uighur people in the name of stability. Without dialogue, there can be no stability." Tohti has been detained several times in the past few years for criticizing China's treatment of ethnic minorities.
  • Today in neat things on the Internet: a medieval manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, known as the "Hengwrt Chaucer." Now online in its entirety, you can scroll through and look at the gorgeous script, as well as the spiky, gilded floral borders on the first page.
  • German-Jewish novelist Stefanie Zweig, author of the autobiographical novel Nowhere in Africa, has died, her nephew told the German news agency DPA. She was 81. Nowhere in Africa, her most famous novel, closely mirrors the story of her family, which, fearing the Nazis, fled Germany in the years leading up to WWII. They moved to Kenya, where Zweig went to a British school. "Nowhere in Africa was published in 1995," Zweig wrote in an essay in The Guardian. "Till then I had no idea that I had remembered every scene of my childhood. Although I had been to Kenya twice and knew that I still spoke Swahili, I was astonished how the language flooded my memory while writing."
  • Notable Books Coming Out This Week:

  • The Informed Air, a collection of odds and ends from the writings of Muriel Spark, swings from contemplations of the afterlife ("Oh God, imagine yourself in a celestial omnibus next to Billy Graham! Far rather would I reside in the shady groves of the pagan outsiders") to a reverie on the merits of cats. She writes, "I cannot speak highly enough of the cat, its casual freedom of spirit, its aloof anarchism and its marvelous beauty. The Greeks, observing its fearful symmetry in motion, called the cat ailouros — a wave of the sea. Nothing restores the soul so much as the contemplation of a cat. In repose, it is like a lotus leaf. Its contentment is mystical; anatomists have still not discovered what or where the cat's purr-box is. To my mind, the flower and consummation of the species was my late cat, Bluebell." Has there been a more charming ode to a dead cat since Thomas Gray's "Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes"? The Informed Air is full of these small delights.
  • Jen Doll's Save The Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest is a frustrating memoir about weddings, of which Doll has attended dozens, written in a gushy just-between-us-girls style. It's easy to imagine how a better version of this book could be charming, even Austen-esque, if Doll were a sharper social observer. But as it is, we are supposed to find stories about getting drunk and saying mean things to her friends funny and relatable. We're told that the decorating scheme of one friend's wedding overdid it with the shades of blue, and the exact cost of the shoes she drunkenly threw at a car while leaving another's nuptials. But we're never offered a good reason to keep reading a book that mostly feels like a long complaint about having to attend too many fancy parties. On the subject of bridal showers, she asks, "Is there anything worse than having to feign enthrallment over a bunch of brownie tins?" Well, yes, maybe one or two things.
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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