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Collected Fictions Paperback – Deckle Edge, September 1, 1999
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Although Jorge Luis Borges published his first book in 1923--doling out his own money for a limited edition of Fervor de Buenos Aires--he remained in Argentinian obscurity for almost three decades. In 1951, however, Ficciones appeared in French, followed soon after by an English translation. This collection, which included the cream of the author's short fictions, made it clear that Borges was a world-class (if highly unclassifiable) artist--a brilliant, lyrical miniaturist, who could pose the great questions of existence on the head of pin. And by 1961, when he shared the French Prix Formentor with Samuel Beckett, he seemed suddenly to tower over a half-dozen literary cultures, the very exemplar of modernism with a human face.
By the time of his death in 1986, Borges had been granted old master status by almost everybody (except, alas, the gentlemen of the Swedish Academy). Yet his work remained dispersed among a half-dozen different collections, some of them increasingly hard to find. Andrew Hurley has done readers a great service, then, by collecting all the stories in a single, meticulously translated volume. It's a pleasure to be reminded that Borges's style--poetic, dreamlike, and compounded of innumerable small surprises--was already in place by 1935, when he published A Universal History of Iniquity: "The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody. Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply and affirm it." (Incidentally, the thrifty author later recycled the second of these aphorisms in his classic bit of bookish metaphysics, "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Teris.") The glories of his middle period, of course, have hardly aged a day. "The Garden of the Forking Paths" remains the best deconstruction of the detective story ever written, even in the post-Auster era, and "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" puts the so-called death of the author in pointed, hilarious perspective.
But Hurley's omnibus also brings home exactly how consistent Borges remained in his concerns. As late as 1975, in "Avelino Arredondo," he was still asking (and occasionally even answering) the same riddles about time and its human repository, memory: "For the man in prison, or the blind man, time flows downstream as though down a slight decline. As he reached the midpoint of his reclusion, Arredondo more than once achieved that virtually timeless time. In the first patio there was a wellhead, and at the bottom, a cistern where a toad lived; it never occurred to Arredondo that it was the toad's time, bordering on eternity, that he sought." Throughout, Hurley's translation is crisp and assured (although this reader will always have a soft spot for "Funes, the Memorious" rather than "Funes, His Memory.") And thanks to his efforts, Borgesians will find no better--and no more pleasurable--rebuttal of the author's description of himself as "a shy sort of man who could not bring himself to write short stories." --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Undeniably one of the most influential writers to emerge in this century from Latin America or anywhere else, Borges (1899-1986) is best known for his short stories, all of which appear here for the first time in one volume, translated and annotated by University of Puerto Rico professor Hurley. Many of the stories return to the same set of images and themes that mark Borges's best known work: the code of ethics embraced by gauchos, knifefighters and outlaws; labyrinths; confrontations with one's doppelganger; and discoveries of artifacts from other worlds (an encyclopedia of a mysterious region in Iraq; a strange disc that has only one side and that gives a king his power; a menacing book that infinitely multiplies its own pages; fragmentary manuscripts that narrate otherworldly accounts of lands of the immortals). Less familiar are episodes that narrate the violent, sordid careers of pirates and outlaws like Billy the Kid (particularly in the early collection A Universal History of Iniquity) or attempts to dramatize the consciousness of Shakespeare or Homer. Elusive, erudite, melancholic, Borges's fiction will intrigue the general reader as well as the scholar. This is the first in a series of three new translations (including the Collected Poems and Collected Nonfictions, all timed to coincide with the centennial of the author's birth), which will offer an alternative to the extensive but very controversial collaborations between Borges and Norman Thomas di Giovanni. First serial rights to the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and Grand Street.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The stories in summation: marvelous. Hurley's work? I'll never be able to read these Borges stories again without Hurley's translation heavily influencing, and that is an endorsement. I suspect that for most people their first experience of Borges will always be their most memorable, and their preferred. I don't think there are many "On first reading Chapman's Homer" instances: that initial shock of strange and monstrous (perhaps my favorite Borgesian adjective) is evident through any kind of translation so long as it is basically competent. Whatever arguments others may have with Hurley's, they can at least admit that his is that.
But I feel there's more: a playful lilt to the language, one that isn't overly scholarly or mechanical. Hurley's introduction briefly talks about the particular style Borges would become famous for: a laconic, matter-of-fact myth disguised as mere sentences, with the employment of words normally alien to each other. Hurley serves this style well, and his presentation of the most memorable lines of each story were the ones that stayed with me even after readings of several different versions. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I sat down with four different versions of "The Library of Babel" and compared them sentence by sentence. I was living in a bookstore at the time, stuck on an island in the middle of the Aegean and co-habitating with an Englishman who held Irby's version as the superior. I listened politely, and compared, and found that even after ouzo and attempts at persuasion it was my original experience that resonated. Reading Irby's left in me a strange longing for Hurley's words. I remember this line in particular:
"They were urged on by the delirium of trying to reach the books in the Crimson Hexagon: books whose format is smaller than usual, all-powerful, illustrated and magical." (Irby)
"They were spurred on by the holy zeal to reach - someday, through unrelenting effort - the books of the Crimson Hexagon - books smaller than natural books, books omnipotent, illustrated, and magical." (Hurley)
It was that "someday, through unrelenting effort" which stuck with me, and its absence in Irby doomed the entire enterprise. Is this a lack of Irby's, or my own bias towards the translation I first read? I'm not sure, but in almost every way I preferred Hurley.
There seems to be a distinct wave of anti-Hurley sentiment, and it's of the "I read a review that said it, but I'll assume that opinion as my own" variety. I eventually found that the Irby-devoted Englishman hadn't even bothered to read the Hurley version. Don't make his mistake of dismissal-by-proxy: try it for yourself.
American-born writer, editor, translator and collaborator, di Giovanni, was JLB's personal assistant in Buenos Aires from 1968 to 1972. I shall now illustrate specifically how his style of translation differed from that of Hurley with the story "The Gospel According to Saint Mark." In characterizing the Gutre family when they first met Espinosa, di Giovanni wrote "They were barely articulate," (in English, that is), while Hurley scribed "They rarely spoke." While the former sentence explains why "the Gutres, who knew so much about things in the country, did not know how to explain them," (page 398 in this book), the latter indicated an aloofness if not suspicion of Espinosa from their first meeting which addresses the irony of the ending. In depicting their eagerness to have St. Mark read to them after dinner, Hurley wrote "In the following days, the Gutres would wolf down the spitted beef and canned sardines in order to arrive sooner at the Gospel" while di Giovanni essayed "The Gutres took to bolting their barbecued meat and their sardines so as not to delay the Gospel." Where di Giovanni deciphered JLB's allusions to Herbert Spencer, W. H. Hudson and Charles I, Hurley explicated the origin of Baltasar Espinosa, the whereabouts of Ramos Mejia and the theme of the novel, Don Segundo Sombra. Take your pick.
Finally, JLB habitually changed texts from edition to edition, especially in his poetry. It is then problematic to determine the faithfulness of the translations. Rest assured that, though rhyme and rhythm are compromised in any translation, in Hurley's rendering, the brilliance and magic of each story is preserved down to, say, the symbolism of the goldfinch at the conclusion of the illustrative yarn, "The Gospel According to Saint Mark."