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The Book of Sand (1975)

by Jorge Luis Borges

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Emecé Editores Buenos Aires (662)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,4212413,087 (4.1)21
Thirteen new stories by the celebrated writer, including two which he considers his greatest achievements to date, artfully blend elements from many literary geares.
  1. 20
    The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges (cometahalley)
  2. 10
    The Gold of the Tigers: Selected Later Poems by Jorge Luis Borges (cometahalley)
    cometahalley: ancora una volta le grandi e potenti meditazioni sul mistero della vita e della morte.
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English (13)  Spanish (4)  French (4)  Italian (2)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
I suppose this has pretty much everything you would expect from a Borges collection: paradoxes, gauchos, world-domination conspiracies, minor academic controversies, ironic fairy tales about skalds and their kings, a magic book with no first or last page, and a supernatural creature we don't get to meet.

The two really well-known pieces are obviously the title story about the frighteningly infinite book (which obviously complements the infinite library we met thirty years earlier) and "El otro", in which the seventy-year-old Jorge Luis Borges, sitting on a bench by the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hears someone whistling a familiar old Argentinian tune and discovers that he is sharing the bench with the the twenty-year-old Jorge Luis Borges, who as far as he knows is sitting on a bench in Geneva. Cue a delightfully perplexed exchange about which of them is dreaming this, and how they could tell.

There are two stories that deal in different ways with the idea that it might be possible to concentrate a poem into a single word, there is an account of the beliefs of a heretical Christian sect that didn't exist but probably should have, there is an old man's story of how he witnessed the shooting of the celebrated gaucho Juan Moreira on the same night he had his first sexual experience, there is a Nordic love-story set on the banks of the Ouse, there are hints of a Nordic theme touching all the stories in the book, and altogether there is far more than could possibly fit into a relatively slim little book. Obviously Borges lent his publishers some of his book-deforming magic. Wonderful stuff, however it was done. ( )
1 vote thorold | Apr 16, 2022 |
El otro 3⭐
Ulrica 3⭐
El Congreso 3⭐
There are more things 3⭐
La Secta de los 30 4⭐
El Espejo y la Máscara 3⭐
Undr 4⭐
Utopía de un hombre que está cansado 4⭐
El Soborno 3⭐
Avelino Arredondo 4⭐
El disco 3⭐
El libro de arena 5⭐ ( )
  Nannus | Jan 17, 2022 |
"Utopia of a Tired Man" is worth the price of the whole book, but the whole book itself is priceless! Borges is amazingly amazing! ( )
  ez_reader | Jul 7, 2019 |


Aesthetic experience is extraordinary in the sense that it is always ours alone, uniquely ours. And some aesthetic experiences hit us right between the eyes with a knockout punch - these are encounters we will never forget. One such encounter was my reading this collection of stories by Jorge Luis Borges some thirty years ago. The images of the book of sand with its infinite pages, the hermit looking for a one-sided disk, an author's pristine lovemaking with a beautiful woman - for me, all aesthetic knockout punches. I would encourage anybody who would like to expand their horizons, expand their inner universe, and exercise their imagination to pick up and read this most wonderful collection. As a way of providing a sample, here are my top ten questions on the title story – The Book of Sand. And below my questions, the actual story.

1. In what way or ways can any short work of fiction be true?

2. What would be your initial thought and feeling if someone handed you the book of sand?

3. What book in your personal library would you trade for the book of sand?

4. Is the book of sand a metaphor for all great works of literature in the sense those works have no end or bottom?

5. What book comes to mind for you as one where the more you reread, the more question arise?

6. Are all works of literature infinite since they expand in different directions each time they are read by a different reader?

7. Are you inextricably bound to a certain book, or, in other words, is there any book holding you as prisoner?

8. What is it about certain books that they refuse to be mastered by anybody?

9. Would you feel uneasy owning the book of sand?

10. Where would you hide the book of sand if you never wanted the book to be discovered?

THE BOOK OF SAND by Jorge Luis Borges

The line is made up of an infinite number of points; the plane of an infinite number of lines; the volume of an infinite number of planes; the hypervolume of an infinite number of volumes. . . . No, unquestionably this is not—more geometrico—the best way of beginning my story. To claim that is it true is nowadays the convention of every made-up story. Mine, however, is true.

I live alone in a fourth-floor apartment on Belgrano Street, in Buenos Aires. Late one evening, a few months back, I heard a knock at my door. I opened it and a stranger stood there. He was a tall man, with nondescript features—or perhaps it was my myopia that made them seem that way. Dressed in gray and carrying a gray suitcase in his hand, he had an unassuming look about him. I saw at once that he was a foreigner. At first, he struck me as old; only later did I realize that I had been misled by his thin blond hair, which was, in a Scandinavian sort of way, almost white. During the course of our conversation, which was not to last an hour, I found out that he came from the Orkneys.

I invited him in, pointing to a chair. He paused awhile before speaking. A kind of gloom emanated from him—as it does now from me.

"I sell Bibles," he said.

Somewhat pedantically, I replied, "In this house are several English Bibles, including the first—John Wiclif's. I also have Cipriano de Valera's, Luther's—which, from a literary viewpoint, is the worst—and a Latin copy of the Vulgate. As you see, it's not exactly Bibles I stand in need of."

After a few moments of silence, he said, "I don't only sell Bibles. I can show you a holy book I came across on the outskirts of Bikaner. It may interest you."

He opened the suitcase and laid the book on a table. It was an octavo volume, bound in cloth. There was no doubt that it had passed through many hands. Examining it, I was surprised by its unusual weight. On the spine were the words "Holy Writ" and, below them, "Bombay."

"Nineteenth century, probably," I remarked.

"I don't know," he said. "I've never found out."

I opened the book at random. The script was strange to me. The pages, which were worn and typographically poor, were laid out in a double column, as in a Bible. The text was closely printed, and it was ordered in versicles. In the upper corners of the pages were Arabic numbers. I noticed that one left-hand page bore the number (let us say) 40,514 and the facing right-hand page 999. I turned the leaf; it was numbered with eight digits. It also bore a small illustration, like the kind used in dictionaries—an anchor drawn with pen and ink, as if by a schoolboy's clumsy hand.

It was at this point that the stranger said, "Look at the illustration closely. You'll never see it again."

I noted my place and closed the book. At once, I reopened it. Page by page, in vain, I looked for the illustration of the anchor. "It seems to be a version of Scriptures in some Indian language, is it not?" I said to hide my dismay.

"No," he replied. Then, as if confiding a secret, he lowered his voice. "I acquired the book in a town out on the plain in exchange for a handful of rupees and a Bible. Its owner did not know how to read. I suspect that he saw the Book of Books as a talisman. He was of the lowest caste; nobody but other untouchables could tread his shadow without contamination. He told me his book was called the Book of Sand, because neither the book nor the sand has any beginning or end."

The stranger asked me to find the first page.

I laid my left hand on the cover and, trying to put my thumb on the flyleaf, I opened the book. It was useless. Every time I tried, a number of pages came between the cover and my thumb. It was as if they kept growing from the book.

"Now find the last page."

Again I failed. In a voice that was not mine, I barely managed to stammer, "This can't be."

Still speaking in a low voice, the stranger said, "It can't be, but it is. The number of pages in this book is no more or less than infinite. None is the first page, none the last. I don't know why they're numbered in this arbitrary way. Perhaps to suggest that the terms of an infinite series admit any number."

Then, as if he were thinking aloud, he said, "If space is infinite, we may be at any point in space. If time is infinite, we may be at any point in time."

His speculations irritated me. "You are religious, no doubt?" I asked him.

"Yes, I'm a Presbyterian. My conscience is clear. I am reasonably sure of not having cheated the native when I gave him the Word of God in exchange for his devilish book."

I assured him that he had nothing to reproach himself for, and I asked if he were just passing through this part of the world. He replied that he planned to return to his country in a few days. It was then that I learned that he was a Scot from the Orkney Islands. I told him I had a great personal affection for Scotland, through my love of Stevenson and Hume.

"You mean Stevenson and Robbie Burns," he corrected.

While we spoke, I kept exploring the infinite book. With feigned indifference, I asked, "Do you intend to offer this curiosity to the British Museum?"

"No. I'm offering it to you," he said, and he stipulated a rather high sum for the book.

I answered, in all truthfulness, that such a sum was out of my reach, and I began thinking. After a minute or two, I came up with a scheme.

"I propose a swap, " I said. "You got this book for a handful of rupees and a copy of the Bible. I'll offer you the amount of my pension check, which I've just collected, and my black-letter Wiclif Bible. I inherited it from my ancestors."

"A black-letter Wiclif!" he murmured.

I went to my bedroom and brought him the money and the book. He turned the leaves and studied the title page with all the fervor of a true bibliophile.

"It's a deal," he said.

It amazed me that he did not haggle. Only later was I to realize that he had entered my house with his mind made up to sell the book. Without counting the money, he put it away.

We talked about India, about Orkney, and about the Norwegian jarls who once ruled it. It was night when the man left. I have not seen him again, nor do I know his name.

I thought of keeping the Book of Sand in the space left on the shelf by the Wiclif, but in the end I decided to hide it behind the volumes of a broken set of The Thousand and One Nights. I went to bed and did not sleep. At three or four in the morning, I turned on the light. I got down the impossible book and leafed through its pages. On one of them I saw engraved a mask. The upper corner of the page carried a number, which I no longer recall, elevated to the ninth power.

I showed no one my treasure. To the luck of owning it was added the fear of having it stolen, and then the misgiving that it might not truly be infinite. These twin preoccupations intensified my old misanthropy. I had only a few friends left; I now stopped seeing even them. A prisoner of the book, I almost never went out anymore. After studying its frayed spine and covers with a magnifying glass, I rejected the possibility of a contrivance of any sort. The small illustrations, I verified, came two thousand pages apart. I set about listing them alphabetically in a notebook, which I was not long in filling up. Never once was an illustration repeated. At night, in the meager intervals my insomnia granted, I dreamed of the book.

Summer came and went, and I realized that the book was monstrous. What good did it do me to think that I, who looked upon the volume with my eyes, who held it in my hands, was any less monstrous? I felt that the book was a nightmarish object, an obscene thing that affronted and tainted reality itself.

I thought of fire, but I feared that the burning of an infinite book might likewise prove infinite and suffocate the planet with smoke. Somewhere I recalled reading that the best place to hide a leaf is in a forest. Before retirement, I worked on Mexico Street, at the Argentine National Library, which contains nine hundred thousand volumes. I knew that to the right of the entrance a curved staircase leads down into the basement, where books and maps and periodicals are kept. One day I went there and, slipping past a member of the staff and trying not to notice at what height or distance from the door, I lost the Book of Sand on one of the basement's musty shelves. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
“Il libro di sabbia”, uno dei racconti che dà il titolo alla raccolta, “un libro infinito e mostruoso”, diverso ad ogni lettura. Come la sabbia, se ne ignora il principio, né se ne conosce la fine. Ogni pagina genera fogli nuovi in un fluire incessante di conoscenza perché è “un ipervolume composto da un numero infinito di volumi”. Interpretato da tanti come una visione profetica della Rete globale, è lecito oggi pensarlo quale metafora della biblioteca, il luogo dove i tanti libri (innumeri granelli) compongono come caleidoscopio figure sempre cangianti. Al libro Borges pone come epigrafe mezzo verso di George Herbert, poeta del Seicento: la tua corda di sabbie. Sembra una contraddizione in termini, ma l’apparente nonsenso è il legame che unisce tanti atomi scomposti in una continuità dove acquistano densità, forza, consistenza. La Biblioteca del Mondo, infinita ... la gestisce Qohelet ... il Bibliotecario ... ( )
  AntonioGallo | Nov 2, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jorge Luis Borgesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carmignani, IlideTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Giovanni, Norman Thomas DiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goodfellow, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reid, AlistairTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sabarte Belacortu, MarioleinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scarano, TommasoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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At my age (I was born in 1899), I cannot promise - I cannot even promise myself - more than these few variations on favourite themes.
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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
-En tal caso -le dije resueltamente- usted se llama Jorge Luis Borges. Yo también soy Jorge Luis Borges. Estamos en 1969, en la ciudad de Cambridge.
-No -me responió con mi propia voz un poco lejana.
(El otro)
De tu primera loa pude afirmar que era un feliz resumen de cuanto se ha cantado en Irlanda. Ésta supera todo lo anterior y también lo aniquila. Suspende, maravilla y deslumbra. No la merecerán los ignaros, pero sí los doctos, los menos. Un cofre de marfil será la custodia del único ejemplar. De la pluma que ha producido una obra tan eminente podemos esperar todavía una obra más alta. (El espejo y la máscara)
No mostré a nadie mi tesoro. A la dicha de poseerlo se agregó el temor de que lo robaran, y después el recelo de que no fuera verdaderamente infinito. Esas dos inquietudes agravaron mi ya vieja misantropía. Me quedaban unos amigos; dejé de verlos.  (El libro de arena)
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Thirteen new stories by the celebrated writer, including two which he considers his greatest achievements to date, artfully blend elements from many literary geares.

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