'The seventeen pieces in Ficciones demonstrate the whirlwind of Borges's genius and mirror the precision and potency of his intellect and inventiveness, his piercing irony, his skepticism, and his obsession with fantasy. Borges sends us on a journey into a compelling, bizarre, and profoundly resonant realm; we enter the fearful sphere of Pascal's abyss, the surreal and literal labyrinth of books, and the iconography of eternal return. To enter the worlds of Ficciones is to enter the mind of Jorge Luis Borges, wherein lies Heaven, Hell, and everything in between'.
The following review will only address Part One of Ficciones, "The Garden of Forking Paths". The second part of the collection of short stories, "Artifices", will have its own review.
I personally found "The Garden of Forking Paths" to be a collection of hits and misses -- mostly misses.
Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius - Miss.
The Approach to Al-Mu'Tasim - Hit.
Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote - Miss.
The Circular Ruins - Hit.
The Babylon Lottery - Miss.
An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain - Miss.
The Library of Babel - Miss.
The Garden of Forking Paths - Miss.
All the stories I didn't care for had the same problem; overly hermetic construction (obscure details/references and/or seemingly irrelevant details/references) The last three stories I listed had potential to be enjoyable, but at a certain point they all take a turn and I lose interest or become somewhat lost...Because this was such a common occurrence, I decided that confusion may have been a desired effect. That is to say that I think Borges liked playing around with puzzles, labyrinths and logic to challenge the reader. From another angle, I also think that Borges didn't intend for these short stories (these puzzles) to be easily undone...the hidden meanings are perhaps meant to be protected.
I really liked the variety Borges presents to the reader; some are detective-type stories or book reviews/commentaries and the others are total fantasy. The two short stories I did enjoy were "The Approach to Al-Mu-Tasim" and 'The Circular Ruins". The former is a review of an imaginary work by Mir Bahadur Ali, which details the story of a freethinking student of Islamic background who has killed a Hindu at a riot, and his subsequent journey to pure, spiritual clarity. Although the speaker makes it a point to compare the first and second editions of the imaginary work, I found myself not really caring too much about this part of the narrative and wishing this book were real. The latter is a short story about a sage or sorcerer, who at circular ruins creates a human being from his dreams... Both stories play with the idea of what is real and what is imagined, another concept which Borges seems to favor incorporating into his writing.
"This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again -- the story starts there..."
This book was given to me by a friend who told me they "just couldn't get into it", but I thought I'd give it a shot, since I really liked the cover. Then, when I read the publisher's description, I too wasn't exactly sold on the story. Women have to make difficult decisions all the time...Nonetheless, I was still willing to give it a chance.
The narrative alternates chapter by chapter between two characters, Little Bee and Sarah O'Rourke. Considering the circumstances by which the two meet, and the dilemmas they each face throughout the book, I found myself sympathizing much more with Little Bee. I think this is because I felt like most of Sarah's pain was self-inflicted. After all, adultery, lies and naivete will only get you so far... I also think her husband, Andrew, was a character worth more explication. At the same time, I realize that his role had to be somewhat minor, in order for the plot to unfold the way it does. The reader will discover a great deal about Andrew from Sarah's flashbacks and recollected memories, but that's it. And then there is Lawrence, who I felt was completely unnecessary; his role could have been downgraded and Andrew's upgraded. However, I really enjoyed Little Bee's narrative. It is much more interesting than Sarah's and she has some memorable quotes...I felt like the author intended on making a statement about immigration and zenophobia in his country, but to me it was tinged by Sarah's drama.
Overall, it's a pretty easy and short read and I appreciated the balance of dialogue and description... but I will say the open ending left something to be desired. I was thinking maybe the death of a certain 'superhero' or even the death of a protagonist would seem appropriate, but that's just my opinion. It's definitely a book to take along on a short trip, or during a wait in an airport.