BOOK REVIEW: The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges

The Aleph : including the prose fictions from The MakerThe Aleph : including the prose fictions from The Maker by Jorge Luis Borges
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book contains the seventeen stories of The Aleph, plus about twenty short pieces of prose fiction from The Maker. Borges was one of the best writers of the twentieth century. His writings are mystical, philosophical, imaginative, provocative, compact, and thick with ideas and references to great literature from Don Quixote to Shakespeare to Greek Mythology. Much of Borges work has a fantasy / speculative component, but it never feels like it’s for its own sake, but rather to convey ideas of a philosophical, psychological, or spiritual nature. One might think that such short writings by a man who was clearly obsessed with a few key ideas (e.g. libraries and labyrinths) would get stale, but far from it.

The collection known by its titular final story (i.e. “The Aleph”) makes up the bulk of the book, and offers some exceptional stories – e.g. “The Other Death,” “Deutsches Requiem,” “The Man on the Threshold,” and, of course, “The Aleph.” The stories engage the readers with issues like mortality, fate, courage, and mystery.

The pieces from “The Maker” are short, few more than a couple pages and some just a paragraph. The most famous piece included is probably the brilliant “Borges and I,” but other important pieces include “The Maker,” “Everything and Nothing,” “The Yellow Rose,” and “The Witness.”

The book has notes and back-matter by the translator / editor, which can be useful for readers who aren’t acquainted with Latin America or the broad canon of classic literature Borges regularly references.

I’d highly recommend this for those who enjoy though-provoking, philosophical fiction. It is a thinking person’s read, but yet many of the pieces are highly engaging as stories.

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BOOK REVIEW: Conversations, Volume 3 Jorge Luis Borges [Int: Osvaldo Ferrari]

Conversations, Volume 3Conversations, Volume 3 by Jorge Luis Borges
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book of interviews with Jorge Luis Borges has me jonesing to read a collection of his short fiction. I must admit that, despite Borges’ great stature as an author, I’ve only ever read one of his stories, and that was lost amid a huge anthology (also perhaps a poem or so under the same constraints.) However, I was intrigued by the possibility of gaining some insight into the Argentinian author credited as one of the founders of the magic realism genre in Latin America. I not only gained said insight, but I also developed an affinity for Borges as a thinker. These interviews not only discuss literature, but also philosophy, politics, language, and other topics as they interact with the literary world. The chapters, of which there are almost thirty, are topically organized and a few pages each.

The interviews are published as dialogues between Osvaldo Ferrari and Borges. That is to say, they are in transcript form so that one can experience the question and response as if you were witnessing the conversation. I found this worked well, and one could sense a camaraderie between the two men.

Let me answer a few questions about which readers might be interested. First, I came in late to the game, and one might wonder if there was any problem reading this, the third volume, first. It caused me no problems. Once in a while Ferrari would reference something the two discussed at an earlier point, but I didn’t feel any confusion (it was never necessary to have heard what they said earlier to interpret a reply.)

Second, given that the conversation is between two Argentinians, readers from other parts of the world might wonder if there is any difficulty following the discussions if one doesn’t know much about the art and social worlds of Argentina. Again, I would say the answer is no – for the most part. There are brief forays into Argentinian literature and politics, but the bulk of the discussion is cosmopolitan. I’d say there was considerably more page space devoted to Irishmen (e.g. Joyce and Yeats) and Americans (e.g. Emerson and Whitman) than there was to Argentinians.

Finally, if you’re wondering whether the book is highly focused on Borges’ work, the answer to that, too, is no. Borges discusses his own work enough, for example, that I now feel I know where I should begin my reading of him. However, he generally seems reticent to discuss his own work and the interviewer was responsive to that preference and picked his questions carefully.

If you’re interested in literature, I’d highly recommend this book. I found Borges penchant for minimalism and simplicity appealing, and yet he had deep insights to offer into a wide range of topics.

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