on 19 September 2000
Perhaps the greatest Spanish language writer of the century, says the fly-leaf. And it is not an exaggeration. But why did anyone let Andrew Hurley loose on this collection? A complete fictions in English was long overdue, but Hurley's translation lets Borges down. His prose style is leaden, and his translations often eccentric or just plain wrong. Borges was influenced by writers such as Burton, Chesterton and Henry James, and transposed their style into Spanish. Hurley, however, has translated Borges into twentieth century American English, which is clearly contrary to both the style and intent of the orignial. This book is well worth buying for the sake of having all the stories in one place and in English, but Norman Thomas di Giovanni's translations of Dr Brodie's Report and the Book of Sands are far superior. If only di G had tackled the Aleph or Ficciones, there would be little need for this amateur-ish effort at all...
on 20 May 2002
As Andrew Hurley's translations of Borges are becoming ubiquitious some criticism of their style is called for. I see I have been (ably) beaten to it, so this can serve as a footnote to the earlier reader review. I can't compare the translations with the original Spanish, so can only observe that for the English reader of English they are spoiled by jarring Americanisms. Perhaps one might argue that American English is appropriate for translating a New World writer, but it is the product of a society very different to Borges's own, and its democratic, colloquial tone often works against his urbanity, fastidiousness, ironic pedantry and self-mocking snobbishness. Like the previous reviewer I have only docked one crown, because Borges is indispensable, whatever the shortcomings of his translators.
on 16 January 2010
For the younger generation who are discovering Borges for the first time I wanted to explain a tragic state of affairs that is so typical of our time. Translation is a great art and particularly so when that which is being translated is considered by critics around the world to be Great Art. As such, great writers often work with a translator to ensure that the finished product is worthy of the original. In the case of Borges he chose to work with Norman Thomas di Giovanni for a period of ten years or more during which time they translated a considerable body of work together. These translations are some of the most sublime in the English language. With the greatest respect to Andrew Hurley for his enthusiasm, the Borges/Giovanni translations are superior to Hurley's own and without denigrating Hurley's capacities as a translator it is understandable in as far as the author of the original stories not only gave his approval to di Giovanni's translations but was in fact the co-translator. It is a great tragedy that since the death of Borges these remarkable translations have become redundant due to rather narrow and selfish pecuniary considerations taking precedence over a desire for maintaining the integrity of artistic values. A similar disrespect was shown to Nabokov when his son Dmitri published work which he had promised his father he would destroy as was his father's wish. The result was an embarassment and dishonour to the artist.
Norman Thomas di Giovanni's long, painstaking work with Borges to produce translations of extremely high quality have been overturned by a similarly unworthy disrespect for artistic integrity. It is wonderful that Andrew Hurley has such an appreciation and enthusisam for the writings of Borges but his translations are really not in the same league as the Giovanni/Borges efforts.
The only reason I write this review is because I believe that if we truly value the work of a great artist such as Borges we should place our allegiance in the direction of seeking to maintain artistic values rather than lazily acquiescing to the commercial exploitaion of art for primarly financial considerations.
Jorge Luis Borges was one of those rare writers who can take even a bizarre, utterly unbelievable idea, and spin it into an exquisite little gem of prose.
And this classic writer was at the peak of his powers when he collected together "Ficciones," whose plain name belies the subtle power and exquisite beauty of Jorges' short stories. Even among Borges' many short stories, few of them can rival this little labyrinth of strange ancient cities, fictional histories, and the eerie depths of the human mind.
"I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia." An odd old saying from the Middle-East leads the narrator to seek out the long-lost heretical histories of a fictional world known as Tlon. Its beliefs, language, and metaphysical eccentricities increasingly fascinate the narrator, until it's almost a surprise to realize that Borges invented all of this.
The stories that follow are no less engrossing -- the recounting of a strange, haunting novel, a man who attempts to LIVE as Don Quixote, a man who tries to dream a new being into existence, a lottery that determines the way the people of Babylon are to live, an examination of a brilliant and underrated author, an exploration of the eternal Library of the universe, and a labyrinthine spy story.
The second round of short stories is a bit less enthralling, merely because it focuses more on "typical" Borges short stories. But they are still pretty enthralling pieces of work -- the remembrance of the brilliantly eccentric Ireneo Funes, the story of a scar, a series of murders linked to "the secret Name," a condemned man's begs God for a year to perfect his art, a forgotten heretic, a conversation leading to revenge, the Cult of the Phoenix, and a man entranced by the "Arabian Nights."
Mirrors and labyrinths fill Borges' work -- real and imagined, in word, metaphor and reality. You see them in an endless library, a guitar melody, a contradiction in religious faith, a complex plot, and in the mind of a man who loses himself to an obsession. The mirrors show you the sides of people that they would never see themselves, and the labyrinth twists the mind into new places where it would never normally go.
"Ficciones" explores places where normal fiction would never go -- such as a Babylonian lottery for different places in society, corrupted by greed -- even as it imbues its eulogies, metaphysical ponderings and explanations with the tinge of reality. The cults, deaths, and art that Borges describes seem so plausible, and are given such depth and detail, that it comes as a mild shock when you realize, "Hey, he made all of this up."
Part of that is due to his unique style, full of elegant wordcraft and gently luminous imagery ("a round yellow moon defined two leaf-clogged fountains in the dreary garden"). Even a stabbing is made brutally beautiful, and often dialogue is unnecessary -- the most beautiful and striking stories in here are the ones where Borges (aka the narrator) eagerly explores some invented facet of the world.
And woven through these stories are many of the things that fascinated Borges through his career -- a tragic hero, ancient heresies, an elusive God, and people whose lives he could somehow explore through his own imagination.
If you could criticize anything at all, it's that few of the characters -- aside from the Borges "narrator" -- are much more than walking symbols of a murky little message. But hey, you could simply see this entire book as an exploration of Borges' own imagination by himself. He happily recounts countries that are nonexistant, books that were never written, geniuses who never were.
"Ficciones" is about the dullest name you can possibly give to a work of genius -- an intricate little web that is all mirrors and mazes. Absolutely stunning.
on 1 February 2009
Borges is one of the few authors with the ability to let you know for sure that you are an idiot. You can read most of his stories in the time it takes to make a cup of tea, yet it may take you a lifetime to grasp anything about it.
This particular collection of Borges' fiction does nothing to ease you in gently. While your brain silently contemplates 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius' you find yourself mulling over the reality of this surreal tale. Does this country (later planet) exist? Of course not, but what about the group that dreamt it up? It ends with the conclusion that the lie will become truth. 'The Circular Ruins' also touches this concept of reality. The taciturn man from the South uses his dreams to create another man, his 'son' if you will. As he contemplates the plight of this being, and the horror it will experience when it discovers that it is not real, merely a projection of thought, he attempts to kill himself, only to discover that he too is nothing but another man's dream.
The book contains a number of labyrinthine tales: 'The Garden of the Forking Paths', 'The Shape of the Sword', 'The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero', and 'Death and the Compass'. These stories question identity and time. 'Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote' tells the tale of a man attempting to rewrite Cervantes' novel word for word. His version, albeit identical, is richer because he is Menard, not Cervantes.
Borges is a master of short fiction, he is able in a few pages to create a labyrinth deeper and richer than many authors can produce in a novel 700 pages long.
on 24 January 2008
i recently read a book called 'the tango singer' about an american who moves to buenos aires to do research about borges for his phd. i really enjoyed that book..but the best thing about it was that it made me want to read borges..someone i had heard of, but never really knew anything about. and ay caramba, im just entranced by borges. he is not your average writer..he expects a lot of his readers, doesnt pander, but is not smug in a post-modern way either as he was to early for that. at first i cant deny, i was bewildered by the idea of writing reviews of books that didnt exist, but now im just surprised that no one has ever thought of writing those 500 page novels he couldnt be bothered to write.
the circular ruins, and death and the compass are just two of the most memorable short stories ive ever read..and boy have i read a lot of them. i think it is the ultimate literary form. i know this, or any of these reviews, are not very helpful if you are thinking of buying this book..but its really hard to say what borges is about..mirrors, labyrinths, dreamlike stories, laced with wit, so many literary references you will be reeling, and the ending you just didnt expect. so much of the reference is fantasy, but then again so much is real..you have to work out which is which. totally amazing writing is what it comes down to..i cant recommend this enough. dont be scared...you know you want it or you wouldnt be here...
on 27 June 2015
Bad translation. This clunky translation does a disservice to a great writer.If Borges could return and write another story it might be called Andrew Hurley murdered me. Buy the Norman Thomas Di Giovanni translation Labyrinths and be happy, though a new hard back edition would be great.
on 29 August 1999
I discovered Borges early in his English translations in the 60s, and couldn't get enough. His minimalism is deceptively simple-looking, but hard to do for me as a writer; his preoccupation with time and existence fascinates and disturbs; and his often-overlooked attention to epistomology is a continuing source of his pawky humor. Borges is endlessly readable, again and again, and I LOVE having all his "fictions" in one volume!
on 1 April 1999
A delight and a treasure. This book will give many hours of pleasure to existing fans of JLB and new readers of his work. Thought provoking and beguiling.
on 22 August 1999
It's wonderful to have a volume that is so much closer to being "complete" than other English translations, however, I have to echo the reservations of the reader/reviewer who suggested purchasing Irby's translation first, then using this volume to supplement one's Borges collection. Perhaps, as one of Irby's ex-students at Princeton, I'm biased by his kindness as a teacher, but I somehow feel that his translation captures the rhythym, style, and polish of Borges' voice far better than this new collection does. I still give this volume 5 stars, though, since it is lovely to have so many of Borges' works collected in one book.