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Borges and the Eternal Orangutans Paperback – May 21, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 135 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation (May 21, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081121592X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811215923
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Brazilian author Verissimo's delightful novel simultaneously caricatures the complicated codes that comprise detective stories and spins a whodunit of paternity, academic intrigue, 16th-century occultism and orangutans. The action occurs at the annual meeting of the Israfel Society, an eccentric organization devoted to the study of Edgar Allan Poe, which Vogelstein, a sheltered teacher and translator, decides to attend in the hopes of meeting his hero, Jorge Luis Borges. When Vogelstein discovers the unlikable Rotkopf, another conference attendee, stabbed to death in front of a mirror, it falls to Borges and Vogelstein to solve the crime. Is the murderer Professor Ikisara, who was angry at having to travel to Buenos Aires for the conference and at having been trampled, twice, by Rotkopf during the welcoming cocktail party? Just as suspicious is Oliver Johnson, the humiliated butt of an elaborate scholarly joke perpetrated by the victim. But maybe it was Hastur, "a malign spirit" rising from the Necronomicon, a list of every evil being on Earth. Will the amateur sleuths uncover the motive and the murderer, or will they accuse someone based on potentially fruitful "literary possibilities"? Borges claims that one "write[s] to remember," but Verissimio (The Club of Angels) demonstrates that one also writes to pay homage, to provide pleasure and to have fun. (May 31)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

This is, above all, a clever book. Literary references—not just to Poe and Borges, but also to the Bible and to the titular monkeys who might produce a Shakespeare play if sat for an eternity before a typewriter—abound. Verissimo blends mystery, highbrow literary commentary, and philosophical speculation while spinning a suspenseful, believable plot. The characters are equally ingenious; you’ll be willing to follow them anywhere. Fans of A. S. Byatt and Iain Pears will particularly enjoy the literary mysteries the novel offers, but it will appeal to a wide audience as well.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

Customer Reviews

This is a book for Borges lovers who can mix their admiration for the master with a grain of salt.
Don J. Brand
A great read, not for those used to light stories, this requires thinking, and a love for a touch of the absurd at times.
Antonio Acuna
In fact, as soon I finished, I was torn between immediately reading it again, going back to Poe, and diving into Borges!
Voracious Reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
One of the most original and delightful novels of the year, Borges and the Eternal Orangutans is simultaneously a literary thriller, a parody of the detective story, and an anti-detective story. Taking its title (and one of its primary images) from Elizabethan writer John Dee, who wrote that if an orangutan were given enough time, he would eventually produce all the books in the world, the novel takes place in Buenos Aires, where an international group of Edgar Allan Poe specialists gathers for a meeting of the mysterious Israfel Society.

The narrator, Vogelstein, a 50-year-old man who has led a cloistered life, "without adventures or surprises," believes that he has been called to the conference by destiny--"some hidden Borges"--and the convenient death of his cat confirms this belief. For years Vogelstein has wanted to meet author Jorge Luis Borges, who is attending the meeting. He once translated a Borges story for "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine," creating and tacking on a new conclusion--a "tail"--to "improve" its inconclusive conclusion. He has been trying to make amends with the horrified author ever since.

Addressing the novel to the blind Borges, Vogelstein describes how, during the conference, he discovered the bloody body of Rotkopf, the most argumentative speaker, in Rotkopf's hotel room. Two other speakers wanted Rotkopf dead. Borges and Vogelstein eventually team up, applying their talents to solving the cryptograms Vogelstein believes are hidden within the murder scene and in the position of the victim's body. Throughout the investigation, Vogelstein and Borges study the tales of Poe for help, while they simultaneously explore the origins of language, the work of John Dee and the "Necronomicon" (publicized by H. P.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on August 16, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (considered the first true entry in the genre of detective fiction), Auguste Dupin and his unnamed narrator-sidekick investigate the double-murder of a mother and daughter, who are heard screaming and, almost immediately after, are discovered mauled to death in a fourth-story room that is locked from the inside. Eventually the sleuths uncover the truth: the "murders" were committed by a frightened orangutan, freshly escaped, who had scaled the building and then fled through the very window it had entered.

In this slim yet packed contribution to the genre founded by Poe, Brazilian author Luis Fernando Verissimo has taken this basic concept--a dead body discovered in a locked room--and added to it some new twists and a vortex of references to Poe's many literary successors.

The murder occurs, appropriately enough, during an international conference on Poe hosted in Buenos Aires. An obnoxious and hypercritical scholar, universally despised and feared, has threatened to demolish the theories of an American scholar. After he is murdered in the dead of night, there are no shortage of suspects: everyone knows how merciless academic rivals can be. The narrator, Vogelstein, also attends the conference and stays down the hall from the hotel room where the murder occurs. It is he who discovers the body against a mirror, apparently in the shape of a letter (Is it meant to be a V? Or does the double image formed by the reflection form an X, O, W, or M?) Before this grisly discovery, Vogelstein's claim to fame is a mangled translation of Jorge Luis Borges's work years earlier.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Antonio Acuna on February 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
It is hard to try an capture in a few pages any portion of Borges' personality, but Verissimo manages to do just that, and in what way! The book starts simply enough, with the possibility of attending an Edgar Allan Poe conference and maybe seeing his ultimate idol; Jorge Luis Borges, the blind Argentinean writer/mythologist supremo.

The book ends up as a supposed murder mystery; an academic, vociferous and virulent in his views, is found dead in his room, and those who most likely would like to kill him had rooms in the same floor.

What happens then is a glorious use of Borges' own 'symbolism' paired with details from Poe's writing and a 17th century alchemist. The plot moves quickly, every step diving more and more into the ambiguity of interpretation of the fact that the doors to the murder room were found locked from the inside.

Verissimo is obviously quite comfortable not only with Poe, but with Borges' work and personality. The whole story appears almost as a schroeder's cat version of Borges' work.

A great read, not for those used to light stories, this requires thinking, and a love for a touch of the absurd at times.

Overall, a great book, good read at any time
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on January 30, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Luis Fernando Verissimo's Borges and the Eternal Orangutans takes the form of a novella addressed to the author Jorge Luis Borges. In it, the narrator/author, a certain Vogelstein, recounts for Borges the story of his experiences in Buenos Aires at a conference of Edgar Allan Poe specialists, an event that had ended prematurely because of the murder of one of the scholars in attendance. Vogelstein had been the one to find Joachim Rotkopf, a spiteful, "eminently knifeable man," stabbed to death in his room. Borges is aware already of much of Vogelstein's story, as he and the narrator discussed the locked room mystery of Rotkopf's death--and the arcane clues the victim left behind pointing to the identity of his killer--immediately after the event. They had attempted to solve the crime by purely intellectual means in a series of conversations that ranged from Edgar Allan Poe's oeuvre to the mystical power of letters to the literary monkeys of this book's title.

Verissimo's supremely clever little mystery will be appreciated by Borges and Poe aficionados--familiarity with both authors would be a plus--and to readers who like their fiction thoughtful and their expectations upended. Kudos to anyone who can figure out whodunit before the book's final chapter.

Debra Hamel -- author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in ancient Greece (Yale University Press, 2003)
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