First translated into English in 1962, Jorge Luis Borges has become the best-known contemporary Latin American author—a man of letters who enjoys worldwide recognition and appreciation. In a career which began early in the century and extends into the 1980’s, Borges has written poems, stories, biographies, and essays; he has lectured widely and served as an editor of several literary magazines. Moreover, he has translated numerous works into Spanish, one of several languages which he speaks. Satire, comedy, polemic, mystery—seldom has Borges maintained allegiance to a single mode or tonality.
The variety and quantity of Borges’ achievement becomes obvious to the nonspecialist with Borges: A Reader, edited by Emir Rodriguez Monegal and Alastair Reid, who, respectively, combine the keen perceptions of a professor of Latin American literature with the fine ear of a poet and translator. Thanks to the selection and arrangement of the volume—complete with editorial commentary, a chronology of Borges’ life and a bibliography of his work—here between covers is a panorama in miniature of the mind and art of Borges.
Borges: A Reader presumes to be nothing more than a selection of writings, representative of Borges’ development. As such it has both the advantages and disadvantages of an anthology. However, any frustration with excerpts and fragments is more than compensated for by the comprehensiveness and accessibility of so many items in one place. Both as an introduction and as a synthesis, Borges: A Reader is informative and enjoyable. For the reader in English, the translations are smooth, almost unnoticeable.
The editors divide the volume into two parts: Borges the Writer, and Borges the Dictator. Long bothered by poor vision, and in spite of several operations, in 1956 Borges was advised by ophthalmologists to cease writing, and thus he began to dictate his work. These compositions were aided by his mother, who acted as his secretary—and by numerous friends, relatives, and other collaborators. Borges has dictated poems, fiction, and essays, and some of his most successful attempts at realistic fiction, such as “The Other,” “Doctor Brodie’s Report,” and “The Intruder,” are the products of this means of composition.
The largest proportion of selections in Borges: A Reader belong to part one: “The Writer.” Found here are several critical essays on American literature, essays almost as provocative in their way and every bit as intelligent as D. H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature, further proof that the literature of the United States lends itself to international perspective and analysis. Also found in this section are biographical sketches and appreciations, book reviews, essays on language and on genre evolution and theory, expositions on Latin American social history and mores, and most significantly, Borges’ fantastic and cryptic fictions, stories ripe for allegorical interpretation, great stories such as “Man from the Slum” and “The Aleph.”
Given the breadth of his writings, each reader will find a favorite Borges, the imaginative artist or the critic, yet the criticism reinforces the fiction and the narratives complement the essays. Thus Borges’ voices ultimately are heard in unison, his ventriloquy discovered at its source. This is one reward of an anthology such as Borges: A Reader. Juxtapositions in genre and mode fuse into one identifiable style and persona, style as the man.
One does not have to read Borges the critic to understand Borges the fictionist, but the themes and techniques with which he is absorbed in his criticism carry over into his fiction. Borges has been influenced by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, G. K. Chesterton, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Miguel de Cervantes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, and numerous others. Beginning in childhood, Borges’...
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