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ficciones

Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov are the cleverest writers I know. Although they come from radically different cultures (Argentina and Russia, respectively), they were born in the same year (1899), both were educated in continental Europe, both write with an erudition that seems beyond reach, and both have a degree of control over their prose that I can only call mastery. They leave me with the certainty that I didn’t follow every reference or understand every level on which their stories are working.

Nevertheless, the experience of reading their work—and perhaps more importantly, rereading—is always worthwhile; indeed, this reading of Borges’ Ficciones (my third?) was satisfying, engrossing, enlightening, ecstatic. The stories explore infinity, purpose, dreams, reality, death, and the arbitrariness of life; despite the fact that each story is rooted in the concreteness of earthly detail, they have a mystical or parable-like quality that Nabokov’s writing does not. Published in 1944, Ficciones offically pre-dates post-modernism, but it is often self-referential and frequently calls attention to its form. Borges never fails to help me consider my life and its place in the universe; after reading him I feel small, but also content with my fate. In my mind, Borges is required reading—along with others such as Calvino, Carver, de Maupassant, O’Connor, and Welty—for the short story lover or aficionado.

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3 Comments

  1. John says:

    I recently got a copy of Borges’ non-fiction and am pleased to find that it has that same wry wit. I think of Borges as the best writer of mathematical fiction going.

    Thanks for the Nabakov reference. Do you recommend a title? I”m happy to see Calvino in your list, his name is always connected in my mind with Borges. The only other I know in this category is Lem.

  2. halshop says:

    Lolita is wonderful, though not for everyone. I also enjoyed Pale Fire and King, Queen, Knave. Nabakov is not a “mathematical” fiction writer in the sense that you are using this term. But, similarities with Borges still exist.

    And, yes, Lem is fantastic in more than one way.

  3. Sabrina says:

    The fact that Nabokov wrote Lolita in the third language he learned says it all to me.

    I haven’t read Borges yet but am interested.

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