The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges

and The Gold of the Tigers, Penguin Modern Classics, 1987, 190 p, including Author’s Note, two Prefaces and Notes.
The Book of Sand was translated from the Spanish El libore arena (published by Emecé Editores SA 1975) by Norman Thomas di Giovanni. The Gold of the Tigers – a selection of poems from The Gold of the Tigers (published as El oro de los tigres by Emecé Editores SA 1972) and The Unending Rose (published as La rosa profunda by Emecé Editores SA 1975) were both translated by Alastair Reid.

The Book of Sand cover

In all of the tales in this collection there is an economical sparseness to the prose, a distancing, which tends to make them read like myth, or fable. They are certainly flavoured with the fantastic. The typical style is to tell rather than show. But in Borges’s hands it works. In his preface to The Unending Rose Borges says, “the notion of art as compromise is a simplification, for no one knows entirely what he is doing. A writer can conceive a fable, Kipling acknowledged, without grasping its moral.” He’s underselling himself. He knew perfectly well what he was doing.

A strange meeting is the nub of The Other. In Cambridge in 1969, by the Charles River, Jorge Luis Borges encounters Jorge Luis Borges, who is in Geneva in 1918, a few steps from the Rhone.
In Ulrike, a Colombian man has an encounter with a Norwegian woman in York. Their walk together leads them into a different time.
The Congress is the Congress of the World, an organisation set up to represent the men of all nations, whose President is Alejandro Glencoe, Uruguayan son of a man from Aberdeen.
Dedicated on its title page to the memory of H P Lovecraft There are more Things is in the tradition of ‘entering a strange house’ stories and ends with an undescribed horror approaching the narrator. Borges’s interest in Scotland is in evidence again. A character is named Alexander Muir and the narrator tells us, “Scotland’s symbol, after all, is the thistle.”
The Sect of the Thirty is a ‘fragment from a manuscript’ tale and reveals the origins of the titular sect’s name.
The night of the gifts contains a tale within a tale within a tale – all inside six pages. The gifts are knowledge of both love and death.
The mirror and the mask is set in the aftermath of the Battle of Clontarf when the High King of Ireland commissions a bard to compose a poem celebrating the victory, then – when it is delivered the next year – another, and finally a third the year after that. Each poem’s significance eclipses the earlier’s.
Undr purports to be a translation of an old manuscript and is another tale within a tale in which a man travels to the land of the Urns to find the single word which is their poetry plus a short rendering of his life thereafter to find the word’s meaning; and that of life.
In Utopia of a tired man our narrator is strolling a vast plain and comes across a building inhabited by a man who, when he speaks, reveals they are in the narrator’s (and the reader’s) future. Within the story’s seven pages we learn how the world came to be as it is and some of the future humans’ beliefs. Borges provides us with some sly digs at his own trade. “Printing – which is now abolished, since it tended to multiply unnecessary texts to the point of dizziness – was one of man’s worst evils.” “Language is a system of quotations.”
The bribe is an account of a piece of academic politics wherein one scholar publishes a critical paper as a stratagem to incline his criticisee to nominate him for a place at a conference.
Avelino Arredondo plans his forthcoming action for the morning of the twenty-fifth of August, sequestering himself from friends, fiancée and newspapers so that none but him can be blamed for it.
In The disk a now blind woodcutter recalls the time he gave a stranger shelter. In the morning the stranger told him he was the king of the Secgens and had Odin’s ring – the only one-sided ring in the world – in his palm. The woodcutter tried to obtain the ring.
The Book of Sand is a story which claims to be true. A man in Buenos Aires (with a great personal affection for Scotland through a love for Stevenson and Hume) opens his door to a Bible seller from Orkney – to where he hopes to return – who shows him the Book of Books, one which has no beginning nor end and whose pagination is arbitrary. He buys it.
The latter half of the book contains many of Borges’s poems; each printed with the original Spanish on the left hand page and the English translation on the right.

Pedant’s corner:- in the author’s note; Wells’ (Wells’s.) Otherwise:- Heraclitus’ (Heraclitus’s,) Tacitus’ (Tacitus’s,) Beauvais’ (Beauvais’s,) John Wilkins’ (Wilkins’s,) Jesus’ (Jesus’s,) extra marks for ‘hanged himself’. “One day less.” (One day fewer,) Wiclif (usually spelled Wycliffe,) Córboda (Córdoba.) In the Notes; Borges’ (Borges’s.)

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

free hit counter script