Jorge Luis Borges, (born August 24, 1899, Buenos Aires, Argentina—died June 14, 1986, Geneva, Switzerland), Argentine poet, essayist, and short-story writer whose works became classics of 20th-century world literature.
Borges was reared in the then-shabby Palermo district of Buenos Aires, the setting of some of his works. His family, which had been notable in Argentine history, included British ancestry, and he learned English before Spanish. The first books that he read—from the library of his father, a man of wide-ranging intellect who taught at an English school—included The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the novels of H.G. Wells, The Thousand and One Nights, and Don Quixote, all in English. Under the constant stimulus and example of his father, the young Borges from his earliest years recognized that he was destined for a literary career.
In 1914, on the eve of World War I, Borges was taken by his family to Geneva, where he learned French and German and received his B.A. from the Collège de Genève. Leaving there in 1919, the family spent a year on Majorca and a year in mainland Spain, where Borges joined the young writers of the Ultraist movement, a group that rebelled against what it considered the decadence of the established writers of the Generation of 1898.
Returning to Buenos Aires in 1921, Borges rediscovered his native city and began to sing of its beauty in poems that imaginatively reconstructed its past and present. His first published book was a volume of poems, Fervor de Buenos Aires, poemas (1923; “Fervour of Buenos Aires, Poems”). He is also credited with establishing the Ultraist movement in South America, though he later repudiated it. This period of his career, which included the authorship of several volumes of essays and poems and the founding of three literary journals, ended with a biography, Evaristo Carriego (1930; Eng. trans. Evaristo Carriego: A Book About Old-Time Buenos Aires).
During his next phase, Borges gradually overcame his shyness in creating pure fiction. At first he preferred to retell the lives of more or less infamous men, as in the sketches of his Historia universal de la infamia (1935; A Universal History of Infamy). To earn his living, he took a major post in 1938 at a Buenos Aires library named for one of his ancestors. He remained there for nine unhappy years.
In 1938, the year his father died, Borges suffered a severe head wound and subsequent blood poisoning, which left him near death, bereft of speech, and fearing for his sanity. This experience appears to have freed in him the deepest forces of creation. In the next eight years he produced his best fantastic stories, those later collected in Ficciones (1944, revised 1956; “Fictions,” Eng. trans. Ficciones) and the volume of English translations titled The Aleph, and Other Stories, 1933–1969 (1970). During this time, he and another writer, Adolfo Bioy Casares, jointly wrote detective stories under the pseudonym H. Bustos Domecq (combining ancestral names of the two writers’ families), which were published in 1942 as Seis problemas para Don Isidro Parodi (Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi). The works of this period revealed for the first time Borges’s entire dreamworld, an ironical or paradoxical version of the real one, with its own language and systems of symbols.
When Juan Perón came to power in 1946, Borges was dismissed from his library position for having expressed support of the Allies in World War II. With the help of friends, he earned his way by lecturing, editing, and writing. A 1952 collection of essays, Otras inquisiciones (1937–1952) (Other Inquisitions, 1937–1952), revealed him at his analytic best. When Perón was deposed in 1955, Borges became director of the national library, an honorific position, and also professor of English and American literature at the University of Buenos Aires. By this time, Borges suffered from total blindness, a hereditary affliction that had also attacked his father and had progressively diminished his own eyesight from the 1920s onward. It had forced him to abandon the writing of long texts and to begin dictating to his mother or to secretaries or friends.
The works that date from this late period, such as El hacedor (1960; “The Doer,” Eng. trans. Dreamtigers) and El libro de los seres imaginarios (1967; The Book of Imaginary Beings), almost erase the distinctions between the genres of prose and poetry. His later collections of stories include El informe de Brodie (1970; Doctor Brodie’s Report), which deals with revenge, murder, and horror, and El libro de arena (1975; The Book of Sand), both of which are allegories combining the simplicity of a folk storyteller with the complex vision of a man who has explored the labyrinths of his own being to its core.
After 1961, when he and Samuel Beckett shared the Formentor Prize, an international award given for unpublished manuscripts, Borges’s tales and poems were increasingly acclaimed as classics of 20th-century world literature. Prior to that time, Borges was little known, even in his native Buenos Aires, except to other writers, many of whom regarded him merely as a craftsman of ingenious techniques and tricks. By the time of his death, the nightmare world of his “fictions” had come to be compared to the world of Franz Kafka and to be praised for concentrating common language into its most enduring form. Through his work, Latin American literature emerged from the academic realm into the realm of generally educated readers. (Source: Britannica)
Borges Mystery Stories by Mike Grost
“Death and The Compass” is an anti-detective story, where the idea is to look at all of the ingenious ways in which the author subverts the conventions of the traditional detective tale. The mystery plot is complex, but every aspect of it supports Borges’ logical satire of detective fiction. One point: one element of the mystery that is never explained is the nakedness of the corpse under the cape; I suspect that this is simply Borges’ homage to Ellery Queen’s The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935), where such nakedness plays a role in the solution. Like his master Chesterton, and like Ellery Queen, most of Borges’ mystery fiction reflects the intuitionist tradition.
By contrast, “Theme of the Traitor and Hero” is a triumph, a real detective story of the first water. It was made into a beautiful color film by director Bernardo Bertolucci, The Spider’s Stratagem (1970), a gorgeous film that is like taking a vacation to Italy.
“Ibn Hakkan al-Bokhari, Dead in his Labyrinth” (1949) is full of vivid story-telling detail. Both in plot and style, the tale is a skillful pastiche of Chesterton. It has a fascinating central image of the labyrinth, and some not bad detective deduction at the end about the significance of a labyrinth. Unfortunately, the mystery plot as a whole is not that clever.
Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi, Borges’ collaboration with Adolpho Bioy-Casares, lies somewhere in the middle. Most of the problems are too contrived to make really good classical detective stories. Most of the stories also contain some real ingenuity, and the collection is very much worth reading.