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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
The Aleph (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Trying to full describe the writings of Jorge Luis Borges is like trying to explain exactly why Leonardo da Vinci's art still captivates. The man wrote works of art.

"The Aleph and Other Stories" includes several of Borges' stories, with all sorts of surreal twists in a seemingly ordinary world. But this collection is a shining example of why people enjoy Borges -- magical, rich in language, and lets us glimpse the minds of anything and anyone he can conjure up.

The title story involves a sort of fictional version of Borges, who makes regular pilgrimages to the house of a woman he loved, and encounters her slightly nuts first cousin Daneri, who is composing a horrible epic poem describing the whole world. When Daneri's house is threatened, he reveals how he's composed the poem -- the Aleph, which he discovered as a child, and he allows Borges to catch a glimpse of... everything.

The other stories have tales of heretics and holy men, of a man's last days awaiting an assassin's bullet, of a girl who coldly seeks revenge for her father, and the Zahir (the opposite of the Aleph), which can cause an all-encompassing obsession in the one who sees it, until they shut out reality.

It's hard to even find a flaw with "The Aleph" -- Borges' writing is exquisitely detailed and atmospheric, and densely packed with philosophical pockets. The main flaw with this collection is that it's basically split into two very dissimilar styles -- some of them are short and relatively plain, while the others are dense pockets of philosophy. In fact, all the stories are based on the idea of shared experiences and infinite time, where there are no "new" experiences but only repetition.

And Borges wraps these stories in lush, digified prose that takes a little while to wade through, but the richness of the words he uses is worth it ("every generation of mankind includes four honest men who secretly hold up the universe and justify it"). And his writing takes on many different people's selves -- he even makes readers squirm by taking us into the mind of a loyal Nazi.

It's almost like another world, Borgeworld, which is almost like ours, but where magical items are hidden in the cellars, soldiers are forgotten, the Minotaur plays in his maze, and God dreams of mortal lives. The most entrancing foray into Borgeworld is "The Immortal," about a Roman soldier who goes searching for a city of immortals, and finds an ancient poet who seems very familiar.

"The Aleph and Other Stories" is a brilliant collection of Borges' exquisite stories. Magical and gritty, beautiful and haunting -- this collection should be cherished.
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on 12 September 2011
This set of short stories are really thought provoking. Superficially light enough to dip into, each story is actually loaded with underlying meaning. I bought it because it was a classic, but was surprised by the relevance of the stories to modern life.
I would recommend this for anyone wanting to read a thought provoking, but entertaining set of stories in small, marvellously formed packages. Not recommended for light holiday reading!
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on 3 October 2015
The short stories are great, compelling, thought-provoking. Yet I'm giving the book 3/5 because MANY of the short stories in it are also present in "Labyrinths" (also under Penguin). It's obviously my fault for a lack of research, but I would've liked to see a table of contents.
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on 10 January 2015
Like having all the surreality from your subconscious siphoned out while you were sleeping, only to awake and find the whole lots been plastered across the front pages of your breakfast newspaper.
...But in a good way.
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on 31 December 2001
"The Aleph" is the title given to a collection of short narratives written by J.L.Borges one of the most prominent Latin American writers who, contrary to his contemporaries, was mainly concerned with the eternal questions of existence, leaving political and social issues aside. An elusive personality, a solitary intellect, Borges addressed the selective ones and not the masses. With a succinct, sometimes laconic style, in an ironic and nihilistic attitude, he deals with philosophical questions, history, time, personal identity, human ethics, and the mystical experience of the Oneness. Most known for his poetry, Borges also wrote essays and short stories. His short stories can be viewed as essays, or essays which have turned into fiction.
Borges had a metaphysical perspective of reality and his fictional universe is inmerssed in esoteric concepts and theological speculations on Gnosticism and Cabala. (The Aleph -- first letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- is considered by the Cabalists as the mystical letter through which it is possible to see the whole universe). Borges incorporates this concept in his obsession to find the ultimate elixir of life. For him life's purpose has no meaning, what is important is the ethical and intellectual instinct; reality is seen as ideas which only persist while they are perceived, time has no beginning and is not infinite. In this unconceivable world, the self must be extinguised in order to achieve revelation.
To understand Borges requires rereading and interpretation, it requires an internalization of his philosophical perspectives which paradoxically means the impossibility of understanding. Borges draws literature into the world of quantum reality!
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on 3 March 2013
In my opinion this book could do with a really fantastic illustrator to respond to the content. Medieval Bestiaries might be another place to supply the visual stimulus
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on 1 June 2016
Beautiful MINDBLOWING stories
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on 24 December 2014
Amazing!!! A Genius!!!
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