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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
AN ENIGMATIC WRITERDec 31 2001
Bonita L. Davis
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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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Good biography of an important writerJan. 8 2014
Gene Rhea Tucker
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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.