Why You Should Read Labyrinths (Borges)

Borges by Cameron Stewart

Synopsis: A Chinese spy operating for the Germans carries off his mission in an improbable way when all hope is seemingly lost; a man capable of rendering his dreams tangible; an infinite library comprising knowledge which extends to the world’s origins; a lieutenant seeking the river of immortality.Such are the premises for some of the 23 best stories written by one of the greatest authors in history,Jorge Luis Borges,and all compiled into this collection.

Why you should read Labyrinths:

1.Unique
Borges’s literature is really one of its kind.His literature is unique because he himself was a unique man.He did not write with the mind of an author,but rather with that of a physicist who constantly contemplates what can be or could be in the world or beyond.His stories will hit a chord in us,as they are proofs of the unsuspected depths the human mind can voyage into.They require such a high level of imagination and are so well explored,that I have no qualms about saying that Borges’s stories figure among the most fabulous pieces of literature.

2.Borges,a master storyteller
While the premises of the stories are abstract,unique and complex,they nonetheless necessitate a writer as talented as Borges to mould them into mesmerizing tales.The man had a knack for blurring the lines between fiction and realism.He would write his stories as factual documents and add many details so as to lend them an air of verisimilitude; consequently we read his absurd narratives as absolute truisms and are thus totally enthralled by them.

3.The Plot Twist
One of the highlights of Borges’s writing is that he is capable of holding the suspense till the very last lines.He leads us to speculate certain things,but always stuns us with an ending we never suspected.He does that in all his stories,and even though we are aware that there will be a plot twist,we never know how he will turn his story around.

4.The Beauty of Metaphors
Some stories in the collection didn’t at first make much sense to me,although they were as beautifully written as the others.But after I looked on the net and learned about their metaphorical nature,I read them in a different light and was yet again stunned by Borges’s talent.He was a keen observer of the human race and their feelings to a myriad of things,and therefore,his metaphorical stories were written with a baffling exactitude.

5.The Variety
While many stories revolve around the theme of infinity,they all differ from one another in tone,setting and even content.Thus when reading Borges,we never know what awaits us in the forthcoming story: Funes the Memorious is centred around magic realism,but Emma Zunz is devoid of it; Pierre Menard,Author of the Quixote is utterly fictional while The Three Versions of Judas is assumptive in nature and derives from reality.

6.Food for Thought
Borges,as it is very well known,was a universal reader who delved into the books of both ancient and modern philosophers and authors.As a result he acquired a different perspective on life which served as the basis for his writing.His stories will unceasingly stun you by the peculiar way their spotlit subjects are explored; after going through this collection,you will see infinity,immortality and Judas (yes) in a totally different light.

What you might not like in Labyrinths:

1.Highly complex
Having such an abstract subject as infinity recurring in most stories inevitably makes Labyrinths a very complex book.The complexity is even heightened by the use of archaic and heavy words (see below),thus be ready to read the same paragraphs twice or thrice to make sense of what is going on in the story.I must however point out that we get used to the complexity once we’ve read the first three stories.Also the complexity is what makes Borges’s stories so peculiar.

2.Vocabulary
In most,if not all,translations the words are arcane and the syntaxes heavy.This is so because translators opine that if they made the stories more fluid and easier to read,they would detract Borges’s soul from them.For even in Spanish (in which the original text is written) his prose do not read smoothly.Moreover Borges’s writing identity lies in the complexity of his stories and thus,the words employed should be consonant with his abstract ideas; for instance,the word ”opprobrium” is used instead of ”disgrace”. Therefore keeping a dictionary handy whilst reading this collection is strongly advised.


Verdict: Borges’s literature is one as you’ve never seen or experienced before,for his stories hold many peculiarities on various levels: setting,style,theme and plot.What is also striking with Borges is his ability to constantly stun his readers despite the diversity of his stories.Even long since I delved into his world,his stories are still on my mind because they prompted me to think and see differently,and most importantly because they are so unique that hardly any other story,visual or literary,comes close to them in the abstract genre.In my opinion,Borges very easily belongs to the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy;we will never see someone,let alone an author,like him again.Do not let the complexity pervading through this collection be a deterrent to you; on the contrary such sheer complexity should be appreciated for it is yet another facet of his writing that makes Borges one of the towering figures of literature.Truly one of the best books of all time!

Note: Labyrinths also comprises essays and parables written by Borges when he turned progressively blind.If you only want his stories,buy Ficciones.

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11 thoughts on “Why You Should Read Labyrinths (Borges)”

  1. I just love your “Why You Should Read” series and “what you might not like ….”! It gives us good concrete reasons as to the value of a book and also balances it with aspects that we might be challenged with. Just excellent! 🙂

    1. I’m framing your comment! Haha.
      Seriously you’re the only one who has praised this series so far.I contemplated putting an end to it at the start of the year,but I then said I will carry on doing it for myself,even if no one likes it.To be honest,I have much fun writing these posts,because they make me appreciate a book’s worth to a greater extent! I also always think that they might make someone read a classic someday…

      I’m just super glad to see someone expressing her appreciation for this series! 😉

      By the way,you should read Borges! He truly is an absolute must-read!!

  2. Wow! His works sound so interesting. Who was the translator of the edition you read? I definitely want to get my hands on a copy of Labyrinths. I really enjoy your “Why You Should Read…” series. You outline the strengths and weaknesses of Classics so that we know what we are getting ourselves into.

    1. Haha, I didn’t even read the above comment before posting my comment. Cleo and I both independently love your series. Keep doing what you’re doing. 🙂

    2. Thanks a lot for the kind words!
      I’m glad there are some people out there who like this rather unusual series! 🙂

      You read a lot of books and essays,so I surmise you might have stumbled upon Borges before.He might look intimidating,but he truly is an outstanding author.I was sceptical as to why he was regarded as of the best writers of all time when he wrote mostly short stories in his lifetime.But after delving into this collection,I can say that reading his stories is a really unique experience!

      You MUST read this,although it can get complex.Hmm,I have the Penguin edition of the book,in which most stories have been translated by James E.Irby.His translations can be tough to read at times – sometimes I had to reread the stories in another translation.But at some point you start getting used to it.

      Maybe you should buy the translation of Norman Thomas Di Giovanni.His translations are slightly more readable…

    1. Indeed.
      I wish more people would read him though.Many think he is just a weird looking old man who will bore them off….

      They don’t know that he is one of the greatest minds the world has ever known!

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