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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