Borges and Me: An Encounter

Jay Parini. Doubleday, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-54582-2
In this astute memoir, novelist Parini (The Last Station) writes of leaving Pennsylvania in 1971 to pursue a PhD in literature at St. Andrews in Scotland. There, he describes himself as the “last 22-year-old virgin in the Age of Aquarius” as he finds his voice as a writer and escapes the draft. He soon falls for antiwar activist Bella Law, who has a boyfriend and is indifferent to Parini’s meek advances. Then, after Parini’s writing mentor, poet Alastair Reid, asks him to host his houseguest, Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, a one-week ramble through the Scottish Highlands ensues. His mission: to describe the entire trip for the blind writer (“He knew what he wanted to see. Or to have me describe”). Parini also plans to meet his thesis subject, poet George Mackay Brown, on the isle of Orkney, but on the way realizes that Borges, a “batty old man of letters,” is a literary jukebox, referring to such literary works as Beowulf (while capsizing their rowboat on Loch Ness) and writers including Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Over the days, a tender bond forms between the eccentric sage and his caretaker. En route to meeting Brown, Parini loses his virginity to a free-spirited innkeeper’s daughter, and, newly emboldened, Parini returns to St. Andrews and kindles a relationship with Bella as he matures as an author, writing, “I could sense my own voice emerging.” Fans of both Borges and Parini will delight in this touching coming-of-age memoir. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 03/03/2020
Release date: 08/04/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-0-385-54583-9
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