This Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet, translator, and key figure in Spanish language literature was born on 24 August 1899 and died 14 June 1986. The winner of the first Formentor Prize and later the Jerusalem Prize, Borges was a key character at the forefront of magical realism, a common literary theory used in Latin American literature to tell a story that features extraordinary events taking place in ordinary life. His most-known works are Ficciones (Fictions) and El Aleph (The Aleph), which are compilations of short stories interwoven with common themes, including: dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors, and other objects, places, or situations that one could interpret as philosophical or pseudo-religious.
There is debate as to whether Borges is the father of magical realism or if he was simply a predecessor, but the critic to first use and define the term magical realism, Ángel Flores, considers the release of Borges’ Historia Universal de la Infamia (A Universal History of Infamy) to be the first steps away from the realism and naturalism of the nineteenth century. You can draw your own conclusions.
After living his youth travelling around Europe with his family and studying at the Collège de Genève in Switzerland, he returned to Argentina in 1921. He then published poems and essays in surrealist literary journals, and worked as a librarian and public lecturer until 1955 when he was appointed director of the National Public Library and the professor of English Literature at the Universidad de Buenos Aires.
Tragically for a man so deeply entrenched in literature, he lost his sight at the age of fifty-five and never learned to read Braille. He was effectively illiterate after that point. This progressive blindness arguably helped him to create innovative literary symbols as he was forced to use his imagination to write his stories.
His works were eventually translated to English in the 1960s, which gained him international renown. Aided by the success of Colombian Pulitzer Prize winner García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, there took place a ‘boom’ in Latin American literature worldwide. It has been argued that he was responsible for the transformation and regeneration of the way people wrote fiction.
For further reading, you can access Borges’ famous 1941 short story The Garden of Forking Paths here.
**Originally published by me via The Witty Agent on August 25, 2016.