Jorge Luis Borges is hard to trust.
You never know what you’re going to get in his 1949 collection of short stories, The Aleph.
The Aleph, along with his 1944 book Ficcones, is a collection of short stories regarded as one of the greatest books from the Argentine writer. Borges is considered to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and one of the innovators of magic realism. His works have influenced such authors as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Marquez, according to this comprehensive page from the Garden of Forking Paths fan page. He even has an unlikely fan in conservative political strategist Karl Rove.
The stories take place from the ancient times to the 20th century. The locations range from Argentina to the Middle East. War and revenge are frequent subjects. Religious themes are often evoked, with the Bible and Koran frequently cited. It’s not surprising labyrinths appear several times (or that the work of artist M.C. Escher, known for his elaborate drawings that often feature endless mazes, was chosen for the cover of the Penguin Classics edition).
Two men get in a vicious intellectual argument about the role of the Bible in “The Theologians.” In “The Biography of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz (1829-1874),” a soldier realizes who he is on the battlefield. A woman named “Emma” plots a clever way of revenge. A man is obsessed by a coin called the “Zahir,” a reflection of society’s obsession with money.
I was intimidated about reading Borges’ stories. His works were easier to read than I thought it would be, but I had to reread some passages several times.
If some situations came off as repetitive, others came off as original and I was waiting for what the twist was going to be. But the story that most intrigued me was one that grounded in realism. In “Deutsches Requim,” a Nazi recounts his time as a concentration prison guard. The story was chilling.
The Penguin Classics edition, translated by Andrew Hurley, also includes The Maker, a series of essays. The most powerful one being “In Memorium, J.F.K.,” a history of weapons used for killing.
Jorge Luis Borges is hard to trust, and hard to forget.
Borges, who was born in 1899 in Argentina and died in 1986, worked as a librarian and also wrote poetry. In 2011, he received a Google doodle in honor of his birthday.
Source: I purchased this book from Amazon.com
This review is part of my series of classic Latino novels. Up next: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.
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