Forgotten Books: Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi, by Jorge Luis Borges & Adolfo Bioy Casares

In 1942, during WWII, Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi, (translated in 1981 as Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi), written by H. Bustos Domecq, appeared in Argentine bookshops. Thus, Don Isidro Parodi, the first amateur sleuth in Argentine literature, was born. This book was followed by Dos fantasías memorables, 1946 (Two noteworthy fantasies), Crónicas de Bustos Domecq, 1967, (translated in 1976 as Chronicles of Bustos Domecq), and Nuevos Cuentos de Bustos Domecq, 1977.

Under the name of Honorio Bustos Domecq we find two of the best known and more influential Argentine writers, Jorge Luis Borges Acevedo and Adolfo Bioy Casares, however we can’t consider H. Bustos Domecq a pen name. In essence Borges and Bioy Casares invented a new author with a complete biography whose features are very different from the sum of them two. Some scholars have called him “Biorges” and he is considered, in his own right, a writer who exerted a great influence on later novelists. One other aspect which is worth noting about this book is the uses of the local slang, something that, unfortunately, is lost in translation. Besides, over time some local references have been lost. 

Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi is a parody as suggested by its title. Isidro Parodi, a barber by trade, is serving 21 years for a murder he did not commit. However he has developed a reputation for being able to solve the cases that are brought to him just listening to the story, without leaving his cell. The six problems narrated in this short book are: The Twelve Figures of the World, The Nights of Goliadkin, The God of the Bulls, Free Will and the Commendatore, Tadeo Limardo’s Victim, and Tai An’s Long Search. They are a delightful read.

In Fantastic Fiction we can read: In an unusual twist on the traditional armchair detective, don Isidro, jailbird and former barbershop owner, unravels each mystery brought to his cell by a host of flamboyant characters, parodies of different elements of Argentinean society. Among these, an easily duped journalist, an actor who gives a new meaning to egotism, and members of a Buenos Aires literary circle, each more absurd than the next, are some of the clientele who stop by the prison to see if don Isidro is “in” for a consult. As with most of Borges’ fiction, there are ample literary references; these add to the unrelenting and cutting humour wielded against Argentinean intellectuals, but the characters speak for themselves. Some of the plots are as farfetched as the characters, including a diamond stolen from Russian royalty and a precious stone lifted from a Chinese temple; others, such as “Free Will and the Commendatore,” underscore philosophical problems. The stories are playful even when they are serious; H. Bustos Domecq does not miss an opportunity to poke fun at the characters, and the authors, Borges and (Bioy) Casares, take every chance to make much of Bustos Domecq, their illustrious pseudonym. The forward and afterward are not to be missed. (The book cover is taken from isfdb).

(The parenthesis are mine and I’ve corrected Isidoro for Isidro. Please note that in Spain, and most Spanish-speaking countries, the first surname was traditionally the father’s first surname, and the second the mother’s first surname. This order may now be reversed, under gender equality law).

A short review by Evelyn C. Leeper can be found HERE.

Two extensive articles in Spanish are: Borges y el policial “trasnochador” en Las Noches de Goliadkin por Pablo Unda Henríquez, and Honorio Bustos Domecq: personaje y autor a la vez. Su vida, obra y creación.

To my knowledge the Spanish edition is out of print. (Alianza Editorial, 1998 1ª edición. 184 pages. ISBN: 9788420633909).

Friday Forgotten Books is hosted by Patti Abbott at Pattinase. A visit to her blog is worth your while.

%d bloggers like this: