I recently had the pleasure of reading Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. It was unlike anything else I have ever read.
If I were compare Borges to any other writer, I think the closest match would be Kurt Vonnegut. Not because they have a similar genre, or wrote on the same themes, but because they are both authors who have a voice and style that is wholly their own.
The comparison to Vonnegut is still kind of shaky. Fictions was translated into English in the 1960’s, making it appear as though the two writers were contemporaries. Really, Borges first wrote this collection of short stories in the 1940’s, beating Vonnegut by almost three decades. If I were to compare Borges to any artist (artist being a term that includes writers, painters/visual artists, musicians, and actors) the best match that comes to mind is Salvador Dali. Both of their bodies of work were bizarre and visceral, simultaneously simple and complicated with a rich undercurrent of thought and meaning.
Borges writing was very high concept. I could summarize many of Fictions’ short stories in a sentence or two. But I often found myself reading through several times in order to fully understand them. They were deeply nuanced, even with the handicap of being translated from Spanish. I should note here that this collection does not read like a translation. It is beautifully written and engaging. I thought at first that Borges was the one who translated his work himself and was shocked to find that it was translated by the very talented Andrew Hurley.
I definitely recommend this read. It’s kind of dense, but I got a lot of enjoyment combing through the words and considering the ideas Borges was illustrating. Here are a few of my favorite stories:
The Circular Ruins: A man attempts to dream a human into existence.
Funes, His Memory: A paralyzed man is cursed to remember every detail of every moment of his life.
The Secret Miracle: A writer about to be put to death finishes his magnum opus through divine intervention.
Three Versions of Judas: A religious scholar considers the notion that Judas may not be as bad as he is made out to be.
My summaries hardly do these stories justice. Often, there is a twist ending. Really, it’s the way these stories are presented to the reader that make them so damn entertaining. Borges had a style that was all his own; he would communicate works of fiction as fact, sounding more like a critic than a story teller. Definitely one of the most remarkable writers I’ve read in recent memory. If you’ve got time, definitely give him a look.