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Borges: A Life by Edwin Williamson

Borges: A Life (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Edwin Williamson

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Title:Borges: A Life
Authors:Edwin Williamson
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2005), Paperback, 592 pages
Collections:Your library

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Borges: A Life by Edwin Williamson (2004)


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Borges has had quite an interesting life - when taken together with his statement that all of his stories are, in a sense, autobiographical, it adds a lot to ones appreciation of his writings.

He has had a tempestuous and passionate life, living in Argentina throughout most of the 20th century, and hopping along in Europe and the US for a while, too. His life is a story unto itself, and rich enough to provide a background to his inimitable storytelling. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentinean writer, led a fascinatingly diverse life almost entirely within the city limits of Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires was, in the early twentieth century, one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities on the planet, and so it is fair to say that Borges experienced numerous worlds without needing to leave home. Born in 1899, he was bilingual from the first, as his grandmother was British. His parents were in conflict over Argentinean politics, which perhaps influenced Borges’ seeming non-partisanship in his writing.

Indeed, if there is a problem with Williamson’s Life, it is the reduction of Borges’ life, character and work to this conflict between his parents. Williamson frequently tries to psychoanalyze the life and work in terms of this conflict and, as far as it goes, this provides insight. But did his parents really shape Borges’ entire life? The evidence provided by Williamson himself indicates otherwise.

For instance, there is the matter of Borges’ early love affair with Norah Lange, a Norwegian-Argentinean red-haired beauty who obsessed Borges for nearly a decade in the 1920s and ’30s. Many of Borges’ early poems and stories were shaped by his affair with Lange, and more, by her jilting of him in favor of Oliverio Girondo.

Also, there is the matter of Borges’ politics: throughout his life he consistently opposed the conservatives, whom he thought barbaric (and who, before World War II, were fascists). Though later Borges would insist that his writing was never political, in the ’20s and ’30s he often wrote essays, reviews and editorials from a strongly liberal perspective.What Williamson does best is bust Borges out of the “magical realism” jail he has been placed in by his North American critics. Born in a tough neighborhood of Buenos Aires, the young Borges witnessed the knife fights and gang battles that provided the material for so much of his work (both early and late)—work, however, that is little known in the Anglophone world, at least until recently with the publication of Andrew Hurley’s translation of Brodie’s Report.

This is not to say that Borges wasn’t interested from early on in experiments designed to extend the range of fictional narrative. He seems to have immediately grasped the relationship between history, memory and narrative and the fact that memory and its reportage often serve to “smooth out” or justify history. Borges’ great achievement was to rough up or striate our understanding of memory and history. For this, curiously, Borges never won the Nobel Prize, though he was short-listed for many years.

The reason for not winning the Prize was probably due to the fact that Borges never published a novel and even with his many short stories, he was never an overtly liberationist writer (which is what the Prize committee generally rewards). He did attempt to write novels and several of his greatest stories are in fact synopses or “fake reviews” of novels he seems to have wanted to write. The problem for Borges seems to have been his conception of the novel as “a representation of a time labyrinth”—a conception that served him so well and so famously in his stories seems to have bogged him down in longer works. Instead, the top Prize went to Marquez in 1982, whose novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is clearly in debt to the notion of a “time labyrinth.”

Williamson’s biography is lucid, comprehensive and deeply informed, not only of the life and work of Borges but of all those in his orbit. While Williamson is clearly fascinated by the events and people that shaped Borges’ work, he does not neglect the peripheral material that makes a great life great reading.

[Originally published in Curled Up with a Good Book ] ( )
  funkendub | Oct 1, 2010 |
An interesting yet ultimately irritating book, this seeks to cast Borges' entire life and work in terms of the opposition between the "sword of honour" of Borges' patrician maternal ancestors and the "gaucho's dagger" that symbolises his father. Dispensing with the formal concerns usually ascribed to Borges' fiction, this biography asserts that most of his stories enact the author's conflicts with his parents and his lovers (or would-be lovers). This biography serves, I suppose, as a corrective to those who paint Borges wholly as a bloodless man of letters, yet I became increasingly irritated at the author's attempts to squeeze the large achievements of Borges into a very small Procrustean bed. ( )
1 vote timjones | Apr 9, 2008 |
Worth the time and effort to get immersed into the life of a unique writer some call the father of South American (modern) literature. As a bonus one gets a good history of a country that in the 1920's was considered the richest country in the world and, to this day, remains a vibrant and passionate place and culture.

having just bought a second home in Buenoos Aires this is a good introduction to the literature of Argentina. ( )
  berthirsch | Jul 6, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670885797, Hardcover)

Edwin Williamson's major new biography is the first in any language to encompass the entire span of Jorge Luis Borges's life and work. Drawing upon previously unknown or unavailable sources, it brings out the human side of Borges: his roots in Argentina, the evolution of his political ideas, his relations with family and friends; the conflicts, desires, and obsessions that drove the man and shaped his work. Williamson's definitive biography finally unlocks the mysteries that still surround hte life of Borges, resulting in a compelling and poignant portrait that will radically transform established views of this modern master.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:13 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Acclaimed as one of the great writers of the twentieth century, Jorge Luis Borges revolutionized the literature of Latin America almost single-handedly, as well as having a remarkable impact in Britain, France, Italy, the United States, and many other countries. He became famous for his astonishing tales of fantasy and metaphysics, but he was also a poet and essayist of formidable skill." "This is the first biography in any language to encompass the entire span of Borges's life and work, based on previously unknown or unavailable sources. It brings out the human side of Borges: his roots in Argentina, his relations with family and friends, in love and in despair. It charts the evolution of his political ideas: his early days as a cultural nationalist, his activities against Peron, his support for the Argentine military juntas during the Dirty War of the 1970s, and the pacifism he finally espoused. By correlating this new biographical information with Borges's literary texts, Edwin Williamson reconstructs the dynamics of his inner world - the conflicts, desires, and obsessions that drove the man and shaped his work."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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