Borges Marathon

I’ve embarked on the impossible task of writing separate reviews for each of the “fictions” written by Jorge Luis Borges. Yes, all 101 of them.

I’ll add new posts to this roundup page, so that we can all see how far I get…

Part 1: The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell

This first story is about a man, Lazarus Morell, who lives in the deep South of the United States during slavery, making money by tricking slaves into thinking he’s helping them escape, only to keep reselling them to new plantations. In typical historical/scholarly/deliberately obtuse fashion, Borges does not begin with a dramatic episode in Morell’s life – he doesn’t even begin with Morell’s life at all. He starts with what he calls the “Remote Cause”… Read More

Part 2: The Improbable Impostor Tom Castro

In one sense, The Improbable Impostor Tom Castro is a simple story of an impostor claiming the identity of a long-lost aristocrat, playing on the desperation of the missing man’s mother to deceive her and claim the Tichborne family fortune. But this is Borges, so nothing is simple… Read More

Part 3: The Widow Ching—Pirate

Before I read Borges, I used to think there was a sharp dividing line between fiction and nonfiction. But Jorge Luis Borges is constantly blurring the lines and playing with the forms, so that it’s intentionally unclear what’s real and what’s invented, and even those categories come to seem less important. The whole story of The Widow Ching—Pirate, for example, is based on fact, but with the details changed at will… Read More

Part 4: Monk Eastman, Purveyor of Iniquities

Monk Eastman’s journey from petty street thug to bouncer to Tammany Hall enforcer to the head of a criminal gang of 1,200 people is worth following, and there are plenty of eye-catching descriptions. But more than all this, what I like about these stories is the way Borges undercuts the glamour and heroism that we have come to expect from stories of pirates and gangsters and other outlaws, and instead shows us their human frailty… Read More

Part 5: The Disinterested Killer Bill Harrigan

Why does Borges change Billy the Kid’s name from Henry McCarty to Bill Harrigan? Why does he play with the facts in other ways, staying true to some elements of the story and changing others? Here’s my take… Read More

Part 6: The Uncivil Teacher of Court Etiquette, Kôtsukéno Suké

This is a story about honour, a familiar theme in Borges fictions, but this time explored through a story of vengeance and ritual suicide in Japan. It’s an interesting story, but I was disappointed not to see any questioning of the traditional heroism in the story… Read More

Part 7: Hakim, the Masked Dyer of Merv

Borges plays with the facts more than usual in this story from 8th-century Merv featuring a leper masquerading as a prophet, along with the early appearance of some classic Borges themes like mirrors and infinite multiplication.

Part 8: Man on Pink Corner

In this story, Jorge Luis Borges takes us into the colourful world of knife fights and gangsters on the streets of old Buenos Aires. It’s a compelling portrait and a beautifully constructed story—with a powerful twist in the final few words.

Part 9: Et Cetera

This section in A Universal History of Iniquity includes several interesting fragments, some of which could provide the basis for interesting stories but are not really developed.

Part 10: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

What would a world with no objective reality look like? How about a language with no nouns? Jorge Luis Borges explores these ideas in a fascinating thought experiment.

Part 11: The Approach to Al-Mutasim

A short story written as a book review of a novel that doesn’t exist—this is Borges at his creative and fanciful best.

That’s it so far! Why not read along with me to help me finish this marathon? I’m aiming to read one story a month, so accounting for inevitable delays, it should take about ten years to finish. Here’s the edition I’m reading:

Borges Collected Fictions

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