Book Review: Borges and I

Borges and I is classified as a memoir or non-fiction. I thought it was a book of non-fiction, a memoir or travel diary of sorts. So throughout the book I felt puzzled by Borges as a character, by Jay Parini’s own depiction of himself but mostly how did so many of Borges’ stories were woven into the text. The way that the plot advanced, seemed too tidy to be true. The author explains in his foreword, this is a work of auto-fiction. Now it all adds up. I must confess, had I known I would have never picked it up. What troubles we about this über-white depiction of a trip with Borges through the Scottish Highlands is:

(1) Borges feels very much like a character, and one drawn upon stereotypes of artistic geniuses. He is quirky, extravagant and self-centered. Childlike but wise in a way that only artists are meant to be.

(2) Borges is exoticized in a typical way that Latinxs tend to be portrayed, but made “acceptable” by being racially white, of Nordic or European origins. As a Latinx, this felt familiar and very troublesome.

(3) The author proudly shrouds himself with white privilege. He has never read Borges, all authors mentioned are white, the ideal feminine beauty is very Nordic, and he goes on to say that slavery would have disappeared by itself even if the Civil War had never happened. Worse, that the reconstruction was even worse than slavery. Poison usually uttered by white people who had no idea what slavery really is or means. It made me cringe, to be honest.

(4) Though he tries to give its women characters a feminist, independent twists, they are still only sexual-props and his attitude towards them is terribly condescending. He marvels that they know history, read poems or have heard about Borges. Terrible and uncomfortable.

But don’t let me disuade you. It’s not all bad. It is a very entertaining book, though pedantic as Jay Parini is himself as a character. Borges is a very fun character. Borges’ genius and influence does shine through the book and it does serve as a good introduction to Borges’ Ficciones. Finally, the idea of the book is a creative rework of Borges’ short story “Borges and I”, published in his collection “The Maker” (“El Hacedor”). The title, The Maker derives from the Scots word “makar”, which I think it’s pretty clever given that Borges is a character and Scotland is the background. I would recommend it if you plan on reading Borges and would like a little background on his stories. But never loose sight of the truth: this is not Borges but a character by a white author, with all that cultural baggage that it brings.

Author: Carla Hafez

Reader of mostly literary fiction and own-voices fiction. Latina. Feminist. Amateur reviewer. Opinionated. Unapologetically progressive. Mom. Wife. Believer.

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