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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ficciones (1944) by Jorge Luis Borges

Borges 1921.jpg
Jorge Luis Borges as a young man.
Book Review
Ficciones (1944)
by Jorge Luis Borges

  In what could be described as in a Borgesian fashion, there are two slightly different English language translations of Borges' fiction, both published in English in 1962.  Before I went back and looked closely at both books, I had assumed that they were the same, and indeed, that was the reason I didn't read Ficciones my first time through the 1001 Books list: I read Labyrinths for the first time as early as high school and I was under the impression that the two books simply carried different titles in the United States and the UK, a not unusual situation even for English language titles.

  As it turns out, the two books share a good deal of overlap, but Ficciones is the more compact collection, and seems to be preferred by contemporary readers.  The most illustrative Borges tales are in both books, so it seems like you would just pick up which ever one came your way, rather than seek out either.  As my friend the Rabbi observed, "It would be more Borgesian if there were no difference."  I might add that additional levels of Borgesianism could be achieved by two books, neither of which contain stories by Borges, two equally blank books, or two equally nonsensical books.   

  Borges was so far ahead of his time that we are still catching up.  The gap between the original publication of Ficciones in Spanish in 1944 and the English translation in 1962 was long enough so that he had an English language audience that was ready to appreciate what he was bringing to the table.  I'm sure, had an English translation been published during the closing months of World War II, it would have been roundly ignored.  In 2018, Borges is still very much in print and practically required reading for any young, English language student looking for the high points of 20th century literature.

  His achievement is all the more stunning when you consider he emerged out of literary back-water (Argentina) writing in a second tier world language (Spanish) and in a format that is often relegated to the back benches of literary achievement (the short story.)   Writers like Anton Chekhov and Raymond Chandler, who essentially specialized in the short story, are entirely excluded from the 1001 Books list, making Borges all the more extraordinary. 

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