cover image BORGES: A Life


Edwin Williamson, Author . Viking $29.95 (574p) ISBN 978-0-670-88579-4

Only one of the most paradoxical men of 20th-century Spanish-language letters could have authored an equally complicated literary work such as Labyrinths. And Jorge Luis Borges's life (1899–1986) imitated his art. In this dynamic biography, Spanish literature scholar Williamson (The Penguin History of Latin America ) pieces together the life of Argentina's elusive literary master against a backdrop of the country's history and the author's oeuvre. While Borges was known as a rebel of narrative form and a crusader against conservative politics, Williamson argues that in spite of his ultracerebral writing style, he lived and died with very ordinary regrets. Borges was the son of battling parents from opposing political parties and the grandson of some of Argentina's most revered military generals. Williamson shows the young writer (whom he nicknames "Georgie" for effect) as a weakling and social recluse, unable to defend himself from the world's bullies. Ultimately, Borges chose the pen over the valiant dagger, so often used in his family's bloody history, as a means of protection. Later in life, displeased with his early books of essays, he set out to buy and burn all available copies. With just the right balance of fact and insight to make for a composed and not overly inflated biography, Williamson's psychoanalysis of Borges in love and in alienation is compelling. Replete with the most detailed facts about the air surrounding Borges, the book maintains human drama without overloading on unnecessary facts to create a poignant overview of a peculiar man. (On sale Aug. 9)