Jorge Luis Borges, the late Argentine author/critic/genius– and one of the greatest 20th century writers from Latin America, or elsewhere for that matter– was born on this date 112 years ago. Because of his general awesomeness, Google is honoring Borges’s birth with their doodle today. In similar fashion, we’ve listed our five favorite short stories (yes, we’re literate, damn it!) written by the man who’s been called the most important figure in Spanish-language literature since Cervantes.
One last note, before we continue, do your brain a favor and pick up Ficciones (most of the stories are found in this collected work). It’s truly brilliant. Here we go:
The first Borges story we ever read (Thank you, AP Spanish Lit!), deals with arrogance, humility, and revenge. In this short piece of work, a Babylonian King constructs an impressive labyrinth. He then subjects a visiting Arab King to it. The latter, after some time, finally gets out, and promises to return the favor to the arrogant Babylonian. We’re not going to ruin it for you, but we’ll say that the story’s twist ending is to die for.
Remember Inception. Yeah, Christopher Nolan’s got nothing on Borges. In The Secret Miracle, playwright Jaromir Hladik is arrested and sentenced to death for being Jewish. Hladik laments his faith, mostly because he left a play unfinished. The night before his execution, our protagonist prays to God asking him for a one-year extension on his life so that he can finish his play. The wish, of course, is granted.
Seriously, if you loved Inception because of the way it messed around with time and the perception of it, you’re going to love The Secret Miracle.
One word: wizards. This story’s got ’em. In The Circular Ruins, an old wizard tries to give birth to a human being using his dreams. He succeeds, and the sorcerer spends more and more time dreaming, spending more time with his creation, as time progresses. It sounds like a boring story, but trust us, it’s quite the opposite. The Circular Ruins is arguably one of our favorite literary mindf*cks.
If you’re the “Choose Your Own Adventures”-type, The Garden Of Forking Paths is for you. Dr. Yu Tsun, a Chinese professor moonlighting as a German spy during World War I, is on the run from MI5 agent Captain Richard Madden. While on the lam, Tsun meets up with the academic Dr. Stephen Albert who tells him of his ancestor Ts’ui Pên, a writer who writes a novel that doubles as a labyrinth. The novel, meant to be confusing and challenging, plays an important role in the story’s resolution.
If the above paragraph is confusing, that’s because we would never be able to do The Garden Of Forking Paths justice. Just trust us, okay?
The best way to describe this short story is as follows: Being John Malkovich + Rip Van Winkle= Shakespeare’s Memory. In this short story, Hermann Sorgel, a Shakespeare fan acquires the memory of the Bard of Avon at a Shakespearean conference. Pretty great if you’re a fan of the playwright, right? Wrong. Our protagonist soon finds that having the memory of someone who died so long ago makes it hard to live in a modern world (cars, for example, terrorize him). As a result, Sorgel decides to pass along the curse to some other unsuspecting fool.