BOOK REVIEW: Borges: An Introduction by Julio Premat

Borges: An IntroductionBorges: An Introduction by Julio Premat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

Jorge Luis Borges was a thinking person’s writer, his works are both global and local (of Argentina or, specifically, of Buenos Aires focus,) are philosophical and literary and cut across scholarly domains, and they can also be arcane and fragmented. It’s because of this — combined with the fact that Borges work remains well worth reading — that a volume like this is beneficial. While the book does -in part – simplify and elucidate Borges’ work, it also expands on the Borges canon as a way to present the reader food-for-thought about ways in which one might approach the thoughts of Borges, oneself. The book is divided into two parts, one on the man and the other on his writings.

While this book is subtitled, “An Introduction,” I would suggest it’d be beneficial if one has read some of Borges’ major works (e.g. A Personal Anthology, “Ficciones,” The Aleph and Other Stories, “Selected Non-fictions,” etc.) Premat does offer some relevant background information when he references texts in order to help clarify his points, but not always enough to get the full understanding and less and less as the book progresses – so as to avoid redundancy. Borges’ work (tending toward short [even micro-] writings across fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) is challenging enough for this kind of study. As opposed to a novelist who would have a few major works to discuss, Borges has a vast body of writings that are no more than a few pages each.

As a reader of Jorge Luis Borges, I found this book to be beneficial and thought-provoking, and would recommend it for others who want to expand the depths of their understanding of this Argentinian writer and his ideas.

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BOOK REVIEW: A Personal Anthology by Jorge Luis Borges

A Personal AnthologyA Personal Anthology by Jorge Luis Borges
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

This is a collection of poetry, short fiction, essays, and other short writings (that fit into two or more of the previously mentioned categories) – all chosen by Borges as the works he wanted his literary legacy to be based upon. For those unacquainted, Borges was a brilliant Argentine author whose writings were philosophical, mystical, erudite, and brief. He was the perfect writer for those of us who love ideas and contemplation of the world, but who also suffer deficits of attention. He wrote in bitesize pieces, but those bites couldn’t have been more intensely flavored with ideas and evocative and provocative commentary. His subject matter includes lofty topics such as the lives of Homer, Shakespeare, and Buddha, but also crude, visceral experiences such as a knife fight.

Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of Borges’ work, and couldn’t resist reading his choices for his personal best – even having recently read many of the pieces – particularly the better-known ones. It’s worth noting that Borges’ choices include a great many of the works that others have called his best work, e.g. “The Aleph,” “Borges and I,” “Biography of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz (1829 – 1874,)” “The Zahir,” “The Maker,” “Averröes’ Search,” “The Golem,” “Circular Ruins,” etc. The biggest surprise of the collection was that it included much more poetry than I expected. The works I’ve read previously contained minimal poetry, but I’d say this collection is about half poems.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s thought-provoking and magnificently written / translated. I would normally say that I’m not qualified to comment on the skill of translation other than to say the book read well, but the two translators wrote an epilogue that I think showed they could channel the mystery and creativity of Jorge Luis Borges.

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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 Page

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: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of SolitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars page


This novel follows the founding family of the fictional city of Macondo (i.e. the Buendía family) from the municipality’s quiet establishment through war and colonial conflict to what comes beyond life at the bleeding edge of a banana republic. Macondo begins its existence as a utopia built amid a swamp. At first – it’s a village that knows no death. Over time, Macondo changes greatly as members of the Buendía family become entwined with broader events and as neocolonial activity comes to Macondo in the form of a large US fruit company that establishes a plantation using Macondo’s labor force. [If the title leads you to expect a great deal of solitude, you may be disappointed. The book begins in medias res with Col. Aureliano Buendía standing before a firing squad, and seldom is there a dull moment, thereafter. Even when the book isn’t in the midst of civil war or disputes between the fruit company and the workers, there are all kinds of strange happenings and fascinating psychology to consider. For example, retired Col. Aureliano Buendía spends his days making and then melting down little gold fish. The futility of this action should make it uninteresting, but the question of why he does it keeps one intrigued. If he sold the fish and made new one’s it would become just another boring job.]

This book is known as one of those must-read masterpieces that don’t make it easy for the reader. That’s not to say it’s dull or written in a difficult style, which could be said to be the case for other books that fall into said category. The readability issues of One Hundred Years of Solitude can largely be grouped under the intertwined categories of “time” and “characters.” (A third could be said to be the magical realist genre which places strange supernatural occurrences within an otherwise realistic setting and chain of events – events not unlike those that took place in real world Latin America. The genre doesn’t present a huge challenge, but it does insist on a more careful reading than would a book that is either pure realism or pure fantasy.)

Because — as the title suggests — there’s a century covered, there are a lot of characters in this book. If having a lot of characters didn’t make it hard enough to follow, names are repeated from generation to generation. This isn’t the result of author laziness. One of the book’s main themes is how – no matter how the world changes – people get caught up in cycles of repeated mistakes and patterns of behavior. Repeating names establishes descendants as at once individuals and archetypes. Another challenge regarding time is that it’s not strictly chronological, but rather jumps around. At a broad level, there is a chronological flow reflecting Macondo’s life-cycle, but within this flow the story jumps around in time a lot. As with the name repetition, this too is likely done on purpose – in this case, in order to convey thoughts on time and memory. Memory is a fascinating issue as the reader sees the events that happen ultimately become mythologized, people no longer believe they happened as described but are rather tall-tales.

One of the most engaging supernatural elements of the book revolves around writings of a traveling gypsy that are written out in Sanskrit and which sit around through the decades gathering dust. These writings aren’t meant to be translated until after one hundred years, and when one of the Aurelianos gets around to translating them, he discovers that they are prophesies that have told the whole story of Macondo, including what is to come, but by the time it is translated the future is already upon them.

I found this book to be a pleasure. It’s not easy reading. One has to read with a level of conscientiousness that can be a labor to maintain. However, it’s worth it in the sense that it offers more food-for-thought than the average novel. There is a line of wisdom conveyed by this novel that has led to it being considered one of the most important novels in the history of literature. I’d highly recommend it for readers of literary fiction.

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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 page


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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