Spanish books

Fiction, fantasy and philosophy – Jorge Louis Borges (Part I)

Most Lorca students and quite a lot of non-Spanish speaking people, will know of Gabriel García Márquez, the world-famous Colombian novelist, author of such literary masterpieces as One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Love in the Time of Cholera who died in April last year.  How many of you also know about Jorge Louis Borges?

Borges (1899 – 1986) was the equal to García Márquez, if not, in some respects, the master.  Born in Buenos Aires, into a comfortable middle-class family, he had little formal education, but by the age of nine had translated Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ into Spanish.

In the 1930s, he began to explore existential questions and fiction, working in a style that has been called ‘irreality’.  His first collection of short stories, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths) was published in 1941.  It is a demanding book, yet fascinating and well worth persevering with.  With eight stories in only 60 pages, the title story concerns a Chinese professor in England, Dr. Yu Tsun, who spies for Germany during World War I, in an attempt to prove to the authorities that an Asian person is able to obtain the information that they seek.

In many ways, Borges’ short stories are like James Joyce’s Ulysses, consisting of a ‘non-linear’ narrative which takes the reader on fantastic journeys yet still retains a (degree of) coherence from beginning to end.

His reputation in South America grew and he received many awards, as well as becoming Professor of Literature at the University of Buenos Aires.  In 1957, he was given the Argentinian National Prize for Literature, but he was still largely unknown outside Latin America…

(to be continued)

Juan Piedra