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Borges: A Life [Paperback]

James Woodall

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Book Description

Nov. 26 1998
Based on extensive, first hand research in Borges native Buenos Aires, including interviews with surviving relatives and friends, this meticulous and evocative biography offers new insights into the life and work of Jorges Luis Borges.. A writer and journalist examines the life and works of one of the best-known South American writers. Impacting post-war fiction and philosophyfrom Garca Mrquez to Fuentes, Updike to Eco, Barth to FoucaultBorges is considered to be one of the founding fathers of an intellectual brand of magical realism. }Jorge Luis Borges is one of the seminal figures in twentieth-century literature. His influence on the art of narrative and on the very way people think about writing has been incalculable. All postwar fiction, from Garca Mrquez to Fuentes, Updike to Barth, Calvino to Eco, bears Borgess imprintin spite of the fact that Borges did not write a single novel.Born at the turn of the century in Argentina, Borges grew up with cosmopolitan parents who fostered his love of literatureand his active imagination. He spent his early youth in Europe, and though he traveled in literary circles, it was not until he returned to Buenos Aires in the late 1930s that he embarked on a substantial writing career of his own. Ficciones and El Aleph , the collections of short stories on which his reputation is based, were cryptic, playful, and vertiginously imagined. They have become benchmarks of Latin American fiction, paving the way for the Magic Realism that followed. Still, fame was slow to come to Borges, and the stature of his work was not recognized until the 1960s. Blind, living with his motherwho died just ten years before he didand increasingly unpopular in his politics, Borges attracted extraordinary international attention in his later years that lasted until his death in 1986. Borges: A Life is the first biography to be written in English since Borges died, and from it emerges a picture of a complex man who neither courted fame nor acknowledged the literary revolution he set in motion. Based on firsthand research in Buenos Aires, James Woodalls portrait depicts the Borges the world never saw: the young pamphleteering poet obsessed by Walt Whitman and Argentine slang; the sexually timid intellectual falling disastrously in love just as he was writing his finest prose; the guru of Latin American letters whose sole aim in old age was domestic happiness. Casting new light on the background to the stories and the poetry, James Woodall also looks at Buenos Aires itself, a city in one of the most dramatic periods of its history. At the center of Woodalls depiction are the two grand obsessions of Borgess life: his celibate love of women and his loathing of Argentinas most charismatic dictator, Juan Pern. }

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Jorge Luis Borges is among the select company of 20th-century writers whose names have been converted into adjectives. Exactly what Borgesian means is hard to pin down. But when we come across a metaphysical riddle of a story--one in which life seems to be interrogated by literature--then we are surely entering Borges's sphere of influence. And given the author's slender output, this sphere is surprisingly large. From Gabriel García Márquez to John Barth, from Umberto Eco to Salman Rushdie, the imprint of Borges is everywhere. Not bad for a recluse who hunkered down in his native Bueno Aires for nearly 40 years at a clip.

How did Borges become Arentina's most conspicuous export? In his new biography, James Woodall goes a considerable distance toward answering this question. The author has done his spadework, and he manages to draw connections between the life and the art without making one a simple explanation for the other. For those who wish to enter the labyrinth of Borges's existence, Woodall is a most agreeable and intelligent guide. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars AN ENIGMATIC WRITER Dec 31 2001
By Bonita L. Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Jorge Luis Borges stands out as the most compelling and influential Latin American writer of his time. Yet his fame came slowly. He was given international acclaim while ignored in his homeland of Argentina. Who is this man Borges, whose life is an enigma to those who have encountered him in print?
The answer to that question is found in this superb literary biograpy of Borges by James Woodall. Borges:A Life, explores the Borges the man and the forces which made him into one of the greatest writers in the twentieth century. Drawing on interviews, Borges' works, and detailed readings of letters and other resources the author unravels the life of the man. In doing so you are given invaluable insight about "Georgie" (as he is called by the author) yet there is still an element of mystery that surrounds him.
Although born in Argentina, Borges was a dedicated Anglophile throughout his life. Literature came alive for him through the English language. His early youth was spent in Europe but it wasn't until he returned home that he was able to embark on his own writing career.
The writer Borges loves to startle the reader and sends you through a maze of complexity that challenges reality. His symbolic use of mirror images and his double puts a twist on literature that has never been done before. Woodall paints a picture of an eccentric man with this powerful gift of telling a story. Although primarily known as a fiction writer, Borges was highly astute in writing poetry and essays.
This is an enjoyable biography of a shy man who becomes accessible to the reader. There are some things in Borges life that arouse questions concerning his integrity. Borges appears to ignore those questions of military dictatorship (in Argentina) and some of his racist comments regarding Indians and Blacks. He moves beyond those distractions and manages to find himself a literary icon. By all means, read this great book about a great man.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good biography of an important writer Jan. 8 2014
By Gene Rhea Tucker - Published on Amazon.com
A few weeks after I finished a biography of Borges, I found this one at a used book store with the exact same title. Serendipitous, no? So I had to buy it. I think Borges would have enjoyed it, somehow. Written in 1997 (the first book I read was written in 2004) it seems to suffer from a lack of sources, a lack of cooperation from Borges's widow, and the fact that Borges has seen new life and new translations through Penguin (the newer biography seems an outgrowth of this Penguin-Kodama collaboration).

But, to the book. It is amazing to that two biographies on the same person can differ so much. The Williamson biography presents Borges's output as the outgrowth of his personal relationships: mother, father, Bioy, loves (spurned and imagined), ancestry, etc. Here, Woodall presents his literature more as an outgrowth of his bookish nature, a view I find more appealing. Still, Williamson made the excellent case that Borges's odd relationship with Norah Lange was the central unrequited love of his life--here Woodall mentions her, in passing, just three times! Though this book is about one hundred fifty pages shorter, Woodall interprets the stories a bit more like a critic than Williamson, which is a plus. He also treats Borges as poet more often than Williamson. The book ends rather abruptly, however, swiftly jumping through the 1980s, and giving short shrift to Maria Kodama. He also calls some late Borges stories "sub-Borgesian," which, I think, is an insult, as some of the latter stories are just as good as his 1940s output. This I wonder about.

In the end, I don't know which biography is the better. Thus, I give them both four stars.

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