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Trying to full describe the writings of Jorge Luis Borges is like trying to explain exactly why Leonardo da Vinci's art still captivates. The man wrote works of art.

And this classic writer's brilliant, surreally exquisite works are on best display in "Borges: Collected Fictions," whose plain name belies the subtle power and exquisite beauty of Jorges' short stories. His intricate and atmospheric narratives are magical, rich in language, and lets us glimpse the minds of anything and anyone he can conjure up.

Interestingly, the first of these "Fictions" is a series of fictionalized stories about real people -- veiled prophets, Chinese pirates, silver-tongued outlaws, Swedenborg, a Japanese courtier and a legendary American outlaw. Only Borges' vivid writing gives these stories a larger-than-life quality, as if he had spun them out of his imagination.

But the completely fictional stories he created don't take long to appear. Among them are more gritty narratives -- a pair of brothers torn by their mutual love for a woman, a girl coldly calculating her revenge, a labyrinthine story of espionage during World War II, and a woman whose obsession with her dead, dashing husband leads her down into madness.

But these are far outweighed by Borges' magical realism, which soaks the book from start to finish -- encounters with past and future selves, brilliant books and authors that never existed, the mystical Aleph and Zahir which show everything and nothing, a hunt for blue tigers that leads to strangely fascinating stones, an alchemist's rose, a poet telling a king of pure beauty and wonder, and receiving the hazy memories of Shakespeare.

And then some of his stories cross the border into pure wonder and fantasy. Borges explores the concept of the Eternal Library that catalogues reality, masks, Minotaurs, a man who tries to dream a new being into existence, a search for a city of ancient immortals, and the exploration of ancient heresies, cities, endless books and cults that never existed at all, except in the confines of Borges' mind.

If this collection has any flaw at all, it's that Borges isn't at his best when he tells gritty realistic stories, about knifings, mobs and barroom murders. While these stories are powerful, they feel vaguely restrained, as if he's holding back his writing skill from its fullest.

The rest of the time, Borges' writing is exquisitely detailed and atmospheric, and densely packed with philosophical pockets. And these stories are magical realism in the purest sense, with a slight, almost mystical twist to the everyday events that we take for granted. Being mistaken for someone else, being sold a book, and visiting a relative all take on deep significance.

And Borges wraps these stories in lush, digified prose that takes a little while to wade through, but the richness of the words he uses is worth it ("A landscape dazzlingly underlain with gold and silver, a windblown, dizzying landscape of monumental mesas and delicate colouration..."). He's even able to alter his style drastically -- one story has the flavor of an Irish legend, while another is a Lovecraftian sci-fi horror story about aliens in a farmhouse. And his writing takes on many different people's selves -- he even makes readers squirm by taking us into the mind of a loyal Nazi.

It's almost like another world, Borgeworld, which is almost like ours, but where magical items are hidden in the cellars, houses are built by angels, the Minotaur plays in his maze, and God dreams of mortal lives. The most entrancing foray into Borgeworld is "The Immortal," about a Roman soldier who goes searching for a city of immortals, and finds an ancient poet who seems very familiar.

"Borges: Collected Fictions" is a very dull name for the collected works of a literary genius, full of shadows, mirrors, masks and the expanses of the human mind. Definitely a must-have.
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on October 10, 2001
I was grateful when a friend gave me this book, which contains the collected short stories of Borges. No longer did I have to sort through my various paperbacks to find a story I wished to reread. The convenience of having this material in one volume is a compelling reason to own this text.
Borges familiar themes of life, death, labyrinths, religion and mythology, mirrors, knife fights, South American revolutionary events and characters, libraries and art, epiphanies versus ignorance wind their way throughout these stories. Often you will begin in media res, which is well enough, but Borges will just as often end a story without resolving matters. His tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, "There Are Many Things," leaves you wondering, for example.
Borges uses detail precisely, not excessively, and if, to borrow from Ezra Pound's comment on what makes for good poetry, the pace of these works is sometimes slow their density is undisputed. (If you want details, lots of details, then try Cormac McCarthy's novels. At times, they are exhausting to read-like running through knee-deep water.)

I find that reading two or three stories at a time (excepting, of course, the extremely brief sketches) suffices, for you need time to linger, to ponder, and, if time allows, to reread passages, if not entire stories.
The excellent footnotes Andrew Hurley provides are, to me, another reason to own this work. This body of contextual, historical, and biographical information was elucidating, even fun, to read. (I used two bookmarks, one for the stories, one for the footnotes.)
Many reviewers quibble with the translation, and I leave that debate to those with much more knowledge about the merits of original Spanish version of these stories than I possess. I do, however, still wonder how the Nobel committees that snubbed Borges were able to rationalize their oversight.
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on June 11, 2004
I regrettably have to concur with the readers from Portland and Panama - as they indicate this collection is a tragedy, as well as a travesty. Here are a couple of examples from my desert island short story, Tlon Uqbar, Orbius Tertius:
- Andrew Hurley has: "The mirror troubled the far end of a hallway in a large country house..."
- James E. Irby (in the Penguin Modern Classic edition of Labyrinths) has: "The mirror troubled the depths of a corridor in a country house..."
and
AH: "... A literal (though also laggardly) reprint..."
JEI: "... a literal but delinquent reprint..."
He doesn't seem to have any respect for Borges' style of writing. Really disappointing. And Carlos Fuentes, a notable admirer of Borges, shared this view on reviewing the Hurley edition.
Avoid.
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on October 21, 1999
To be finally faced with this monumental work cannot be anything but a joy and privledge to anyone who reveres the work of Jorge Luis Borges. To one whose English contact with his work has been represented by others than Andrew Hurley however, his work can be abruptly disconcerting. Consider and compare one spare example: Read side by side from "The Book Of Sand", the two versions of "The Other", both by Andrew Hurley and that of Norman Thomas Di Giovanni, and you may recall the fable of the blind men describing an elephant; each by feeling a different part of the anatomy. They tell the identical tale, but the resultant effect is completely dipolar. Di Giovanni recreates for us in English, the essential magical realism with which Borges spoke, while retaining the essence and cadence that fill this short tale with it's dreamlike structure. It is carefully and lovingly crafted, with respect and methodic attention to the original Spanish cadre. The hypnotic illusion it creates puts the reader in it's spell fully, from the first sentence. Hurley's version, relies soley upon his perception of how best to explain to the reader, what it is he thinks the author had in mind.. It is as if though he sought to put the lines onto paper as quickly as possible, while recreating a contemporary English version of Borges plan. For the reader new to Borges' majestic presence, there is an unwarranted intrusion into the translation concept, as if the project was rushed to completion. How long and hard Hurley has worked on this enormous procect deserves utmost admiration. How new readers of Borges will interpret what they read is troubling, in comparison to those who have come before him.
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on February 5, 2000
These stories read like they are translated verbatim without any consideration of how enjoyable the end product will be. Hurley's sentences are frigid and mechanical, lacking much of the simplicity and brevity that makes Borges great. Only some of Borges's stories are supposed to read like encyclopedia entries.
Di Giovanni's translations are far more readable. After all, Di Giovanni worked closely with Borges during translation, and Borges himself had a pretty good understanding of the English language.
Having said that, I'm grateful that these stories are finally available in a single volume. But I feel the book would have been much better had Hurley only translated the stories for which a good translation does not already exist.
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on September 13, 2000
True, the translation could be better. I found myself re-writing in my head alternative sentences. But that is exactly what Borges would have wanted his readers to do. A dream master, JLB guides us into worlds that guess at other worlds and leads us to our own discoveries. I can't count the times I had to put the book down to allow myself to ponder on what I was reading. Some of his stories border the essay, and that uncertainty makes the plot more believable and profound. Like with any book, recreate it in your mind, and be part of a Borges dream.
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on September 6, 2000
Some earlier reviewers complained about the quality of the translation of this collection of stories by Andrew Hurley, especially when compared to the collaboration between Jorge Luis Borges, (JLB, as he liked to sign), and Norman Thomas di Giovanni in preparing Labyrinths. (I suggest you read all reviews in the order they were written.) As one reasonably familiar with JLB's oeuvre, (a word JLB disliked), I state unequivocally that paying six dollars more for four times the number of stories in Labyrinths is a great bargain. Beyond nickels and dimes, it is precisely because the works of JLB were erstwhile translated into English in bits and pieces that his recognition as a gifted writer took so long in coming. (Jean-Pierre Berne's two-volume French translation, Oeuvres completes, is highly recommended.)
American-born writer, editor, translator and collaborator, di Giovanni, was JLB's personal assistant in Buenos Aires from 1968 to 1972. I shall now illustrate specifically how his style of translation differed from that of Hurley with the story "The Gospel According to Saint Mark." In characterizing the Gutre family when they first met Espinosa, di Giovanni wrote "They were barely articulate," (in English, that is), while Hurley scribed "They rarely spoke." While the former sentence explains why "the Gutres, who knew so much about things in the country, did not know how to explain them," (page 398 in this book), the latter indicated an aloofness if not suspicion of Espinosa from their first meeting which addresses the irony of the ending. In depicting their eagerness to have St. Mark read to them after dinner, Hurley wrote "In the following days, the Gutres would wolf down the spitted beef and canned sardines in order to arrive sooner at the Gospel" while di Giovanni essayed "The Gutres took to bolting their barbecued meat and their sardines so as not to delay the Gospel." Where di Giovanni deciphered JLB's allusions to Herbert Spencer, W. H. Hudson and Charles I, Hurley explicated the origin of Baltasar Espinosa, the whereabouts of Ramos Mejia and the theme of the novel, Don Segundo Sombra. Take your pick.
Finally, JLB habitually changed texts from edition to edition, especially in his poetry. It is then problematic to determine the faithfulness of the translations. Rest assured that, though rhyme and rhythm are compromised in any translation, in Hurley's rendering, the brilliance and magic of each story is preserved down to, say, the symbolism of the goldfinch at the conclusion of the illustrative yarn, "The Gospel According to Saint Mark."
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on July 28, 2000
I've been working my way gradually through this volume, reading one story at a time. Okay, I cheated and read handfuls of one pagers.
Sure, there's some not-so-impressive pieces here, but there is also "The Aleph", "Blue Tigers", "Death and the Compass", "Guayaquil", "The Library of Babel", "The Mirror and the Mask", "The Rose of Paracelsus", "The Shape of the Sword", "Three Versions of Judas", "The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths", and, of course, "The Lottery in Babylon." Some are simple narratives, clever tales. Others are speculations about delicate ideas (a one sided disk, a single point through which one can see everything in its entirety, a society where everybody's actions may or may not be determined by chance). At his best, he creates interesting people, not the least of which is the character of himself, to see witness these phenomenom.
Be careful, though, of a volume that contains stories like "The Dead Man", "The Other Death", "The Duel", "The Other Duel", and "The Other". In some ways, the risk is having the entire translation of a collected volume all done by one man. I haven't read the originals (my Spanish is seriously lacking), but I feel that, while his translation of any one particular pience may be adequate, having the entire work translated by Hurley lent the entire volume a lingering sameness. It was difficult to detect a maturity of voice, or any serious change in style, over the 40+ years of stories here. Maybe this was part of the magic of Borges, but I doubt it.
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on April 1, 1999
As is so often the case, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is obvious: all of Borges' fiction collected into one beautiful volume. These short stories, parables, and other writings explore the nature of literature, identity, and existence itself in a style that is simultaneously mundane and fantastic. The bad news is the extent to which that style is buried in the new translation. I have read many pieces by Borges translated by many different translators, and all shared a common, instantly identifiable voice that transcended the translation. Hurley's translations are in every case inferior. They are overly wordy and do not capture the dry, succint language that somehow heightens the imaginative power of the stories. One must still give this book a high rating, as these are very important pieces of fiction, and their ideas still shine through, but a better translation would have guaranteed five stars. My recommendation: if you have not yet read any Borges, start with one of the other, smaller volumes (e.g., Fictions, Labyrinths). If you are fond of his writing already and want to have it all in one volume, glance through this book in a bookstore and see for yourself whether you can live with this translation.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon March 21, 2011
To have all of Borges' prose fiction in one volume is such a treat. I was lead to Borges by Umberto Eco and I have enjoyed every moment I have spent enthralled in Borges' short stories. One can certainly see how he has been influenced by Chesterton and Poe and how, in turn, he has influenced Eco and so many other modern day writers who now mix the natural and supernatural in their tales. These fantastic tales of labyrinths, mirrors, parallel dimensions, non-linear time, dreams, imaginary documents and fictional authors, as well as his folk tales of a past Argentina, will simultaneously mesmerize and frustrate readers: mesmerize because the reader will be carried away into the bizarre worlds of Borges' imagination; frustrate because it will leave the reader wishing for more and longer works (it is especially sad for me that Borges never wrote a novel...thankfully Eco translates some of the main ideas within Borges' short stories into his novels).

Some reviewers bemoan Hurley's translation as being less literary than other previous translations, and the language can tend to be somewhat plain. Personally, whatever you may think about any given translation or which style you may prefer, what we do know about Borges is that he would have approved of multiple translations - the more the merrier - and he would have relished the places where his stories differed between translations and laughed at the arguments the differences have caused. After all, could anything be more Borgesian? He translated several great works into Spanish and was noted for the subtle changes he sometimes consciously introduced.

While all of Borges is definitely not for everyone, everyone should at least read a few of his stories. Some good starters would be "The Garden of Forking Paths", "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote", "The Circular Ruins", The Library of Babel" and "The Duel". These tales will give you a great cross section of his works and they will blow your mind at the same time.
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