Borges: A Life

“Edwin Williamson’s new life of the great writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is thoroughly engrossing, and fans of the Argentine’s ficciones will want to read it without delay. But like socialist literature of the 1930s, this biography wants to fit unruly human life into a theoretical mold. Throughout these pages, Borges is made to appear a divided man, one who desperately, and until his final years unsuccessfully, yearns for spiritual unity. Williamson discovers polarities everywhere. As a child Borges is torn between admiration for his martial ancestors (symbolized by the sword) and an equal admiration for the romantic violence of raffish knife-fighters and petty criminals (the dagger). As a young man, he is caught between the example of his father, the bookish, philandering would-be artist, and the demands of his controlling mother, whom he never disobeys, no matter how stultifying her attentions, how suffocating her devotion. Worst of all, as an adult, Borges repeatedly desires the love of a good woman or even a bad one, but though his spirit may sometimes be willing, his flesh is apparently always weak: Whether traumatized by memories of an unsuccessful adolescent visit to a prostitute or fearful of offending imperious Mama, he can never, his biographer strongly suggests, actually bring himself to go to bed with anybody.”

More from Michael Dirda’s review in the Washington Post.

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