by Jorge Luis Borges

Paper Book, 1962





New York : Grove Press, c1962.


The seventeen pieces in Ficciones demonstrate the gargantuan powers of imagination, intelligence, and style of one of the greatest writers of this or any other century. 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. More playful and approachable than the fictions themselves are Borges's Prologues, brief elucidations that offer the uninitiated a passageway into 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. To enter the worlds in Ficciones is to enter the mind of Jorge Luis Borges, wherein lies Heaven, Hell, and everything in between.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member nmhale
Borges is a writer who I find hard to describe. His stories are highly intellectual, full of allusions to history and literature and religion and philosophy, and the subjects often deal with esoteric and philosophic matter. They defy being categorized in a particular genre. This book is a compilation of two collections of short stories. These tales are fantastical in nature, but not in a way that I usually associate as fantasy. The realm of the unnatural tends to occur in people's minds, or sometimes in complex societal structures that are unspoken and secret and seem to transcend time and place, and are subtle on the surface but extremely complex beneath.

For instance, one story tells of a man that is facing the death sentence during World War II. After experiencing various emotions about his impending death, he realizes that the one thing he wishes more than any other is to be able to complete the drama he was composing. He prays to God for enough time to finish the task, and God grants his wish, if not in the way anticipated. At the moment that the bullets are fired, all motion around him ceases. He is able to live in his mind for years and years, until he has completed his masterpiece. At that moment, time resumes, and bullets cut him down. Or there is the story of a man that escapes to a forgotten temple ruin in the middle of the jungle, lays down, and dreams. His ambition is to dream another man into existence. He is successful, but becomes consumed with fear that his child will realize he is not like other men, that he is, in fact, just another man's dream. This anxiety is forgotten, however, when he finds that fire can not touch him, and learns that he himself is another man's dreamed creation.

Other stories transcend the individual level. Borges writes of the library of Babel, for instance, that is a never ending structure of connecting hexagons, ascending and descending into infinity. More astounding, though, are the books, which contain every possible piece of written text in all of time and history. Librarians work various sections of this institution, and have developed theories about life based on the library. Cults have been formed, pilgrimages undertaken, extremists and heretics have arisen, and even such crimes as murder have been committed, all in the pursuit of understanding the library. Contrast this to the tongue-in-cheek story about the cult of the Phoenix, a society of believers that can be found in all countries, all ethnicities, all periods of time, built solely around a simple secret tradition that some are too superstitious to even practice. Borges slyly neglects to describe what this secret is.

No one can deny Borges's genius as a writer. His short fiction is intelligent, inventive, and entirely his own. The closest comparison I can make to other writers is to those that write magical realism, because of the way Borges writes grandiose philosophical impossibilities and fantasies with such normality, as if he finds them not surprising at all, and neither should we. This is the type of literature that truly benefits from a close analytical study, which I did not do, but read straight through them instead. I still appreciated their artistry, and was engaged with the plots as well as the themes that I did glean, but I'm sure that I missed a great deal. The motif of literature, being bound by the written word and yet boundless, of the way it shapes us rather than us shaping it, of the various relationships between reader and text, between writer and text, and between writer and reader, is present throughout most of the stories. The power of language and writing is a theme Borges explores consistently. Also repeatedly evoked were the ideas of who we are in connection to our mental capacities, our philosophy and religion, and how what we create can take life beyond us. Borges likes to play with the vagaries of the mind. I am certain that there are many more metaphors and messages that others have discovered in these writings.

For this particular book, I would have liked a volume that had footnotes. Borges has so many references in his stories that I know I missed some of the meaning of the various works by not catching them all. I read one of the stories from this book - "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" - in an anthology of short fiction, which was heavily annotated, and was able to understand a lot more of his obscure allusions, some of which did indeed pertain to the meaning of the story. I imagine I will have to make an exception and reread this collection at some point (I have so many books that I rarely reread, unless it's a particular favorite), with more time and resources devoted to it, to do the writing justice. As it is, I consider this high quality writing, very complex, and a worthy author to read for those wishing to expand their literary frontiers.
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LibraryThing member datrappert
If ever a book deserved a six star rating, this is yet. Borges writes ten page stories that have more packed into them philosophically, intellectually, and entertainingly than any 600- or 1000-page novel I can think of. He could have written Foucault's Pendulum in about 8 pages. These are stories you will read over and over again, and some of the ones that don't grab you at first, such as "The South" will end up haunting you with their inevitability. My own favorites are "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote", which is a marvel of taking a somewhat absurd idea to its logical extreme - treating it absolutely seriously - and leaving the reader with both a profound sense of wonder and a silent bit of hysterical laughter just trying to get out, "The Babylon Lottery", "The Library of Babel", "The Garden of Forking Paths" - one of the great noir stories, "Funes the Memorious", and "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero". And the others are great, too.… (more)
LibraryThing member bokai
Reviewing a book by a 'master' of literature always feels like a dangerous undertaking, so I am going to call this a response instead.

I read Borges for a class called Philosophy in Literature. While I'm not a total Philistine in literary matters, I would be lying if I said I caught half of Borges' references without having to look things up. Once I -did- look them up, my reading became much more enjoyable. Borges is utter nonsense unless you can figure out how to catch somehow the things he is throwing at you, and although I am sure that I've let the lion's share of the meaning in his work slip through my fingers on my first reading, what I did catch was delightful.

Borges is playful to the extreme. The stories in which he shines are those where he takes some strange idea and runs with it straight through. My favorite in the anthology has to be "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote." The premise stripped bare of Borges' elaboration is idiotic, but the story is a great one none the less. I can hardly understand it.

While I read Ficciones I was constantly torn between crying out, "This is so stupid!" and "Oh god, this is genius!" at the exact same time. I'm inclined to think that his greatest stories are both.

There are also a few stories in Ficciones that are not nearly as interesting as the others. Perhaps if epic shorts like "Funes, the Memorious" had never been written, a story like "The Form of the Sword" would still be great fiction, but when compared to their neighbors, there are a few stories that do not incite nearly as much masochistic mental glee as the others.

Regardless, Borges is a master of imagination, and for that I tip my hat to him.
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LibraryThing member kratib
I would classify Ficciones as fiction for philosophers. Actually, a more contemporary term for philosophers is information scientists, and Borges' short stories are all about thought experiments concerning information, regardless of context. The most striking example is The Infinite Library, which starts with the very simple premise that the information contained in the Universe is infinite, and then describes specific situations arising from that premise. In each story, you can find an abstract hypothesis that, if applied to a real life context, yields the dramatic unfolding of the story. Of course, it can be said of any fiction work that it materializes an abstract idea. However, with Borges, it's as if this idea is presented to us in its most bare, abstract form.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cecrow
Ficciones is comprised of two anthologies, the Garden of Forking Paths and Artifices. The first is absolutely brilliant, the second more conventional but still good. Borges had a talent for transforming reality within the context of his stories, then exploring its boundaries and horizons. Every story is the pursuit of an idea, the characters and plot - when there is a plot - merely tools to do so. Some stories appear more straightforward but feature some detail, a trick ending or final sentence that changes how the rest is viewed. Borges' style is largely telling rather than showing, but it is such very good telling that it works without a hitch.

Here are the stories in this volume. The attached ratings are purely a reflection of my subjective enjoyment. My rating system is even more questionable when considering that at least some of the stories inform one another and often explore different facets of similar ideas (e.g. shared identities, labyrinths, etc.) The introduction to my 1993 Everyman's Library edition (by John Sturrock) is brilliant, shedding light on the author and providing insight into nearly every piece. It's well worth reading in advance of jumping in. I also recommend the Wikipedia entries.

* Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius - rare books are discovered which prove to have a very unusual relationship, and foreshadow the world's future. Love how mysteries unfold in this one, it's a great introduction to this master stylist. Note, 1947 was a future setting at the time of this story's writing. (5/5)

* The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim - Borges never wrote a novel ("laborious and impoverishing extravagance", he called them) and he gets around it here in a short story disguised as the review of a (fictional) novel. (4/5)

* Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote - literature is interpreted according to the time, place and by whom it was written. So much for objectivity. (4/5)

* The Circular Ruins - a man dreams another into existence. Later stories will have you circling back. (4/5)

* The Babylon Lottery - a story about A, where I thought he should have taken it to B. Turns out he'd thought of B, and this was actually about C. Got me there. (5/5)

* An Examination of the Works of Herbert Quain - interesting look at unusual story structures for novels, the flaws and pluses. The ending reveals its relevance. (3/5)

* The Library of Babel - this is all about the concept; an infinite (maybe) library with volumes containing every permutation of the alphabet. Incidentally there are experimental (fan?) web sites that simulate samples of this library's contents. (4/5)

* The Garden of Forking Paths - a German spy must somehow get a message to his superiors, with an agent close on his tail. (5/5)

I found the second portion "Artifices" to be not as strong. The stories in this half largely steer away from the thought experiments pattern:

* Funes, the Memorious - a man suffers from remembering every detail of his life. (4/5)

* The Form of the Sword - a Uruguayan immigrant explains the enormous scar on his face. (4/5)

* Theme of the Traitor and Hero - the details of a man's death find mysterious echoes in history and literature. (4/5)

* Death and the Compass - a Poirot-like sleuth follows the clues from three murders to anticipate a fourth. (5/5)

* The Secret Miracle - a man facing a firing squad makes one final request of God. (4/5)

* Three Versions of Judas - explores a theological idea involving Judas Iscariot of the Bible, and the fate of that idea's perpetrator. (3/5)

* The End - this was not a story I can fully appreciate, not having read the poem "Martin Fierro" that it is based upon and offers insight into. (3/5)

* The Sect of the Phoenix - an exercise demonstrating that virtually anything can be made mysterious if presented so. We see this all the time today on the Internet. (4/5)

* The South - as the author notes in his preface, this can be read as a straightforward story or in another way. You know if Borges puts a character in a sanatorium, things are going to get interesting. (4/5)

With few exceptions, these stories have made a lasting impression and their imagery will stick with me for a long time to come. That's not something I say after every short story collection I read. Read him for his influence on other artists, which has been far-reaching and pervasive. Perhaps he will influence you as well.
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LibraryThing member lyzadanger
It took me nearly a year to complete Borge's collection of short stories called Ficciones. This compilation, cited often as the best introduction to the Argentinian writer's oeuvre, has about 20 stories, written in the mid-20th century, that range between fantasy and satire, psychological thriller and eerie psychosis.

The provenance of this volume (can you call a paperback book a volume? I'd like to) was my aunt Catherine, on one of her remarkably frequent visits (she travels between Ireland and the west coast of the US more frequently than I make it to Seattle). She wanted me specifically to read The Library of Babel, which describes a universe comprised of an infinite library, hexagonal chamber after hexagonal chamber of books.

These are the literary equivalents of M.C. Escher drawings. There is an emphasis on impossible figures, impossible logic, impossible sequence. Cause and effect are reversed, dream and reality switched. There are time loops and secret societies.

Much of the content was composed in the 1940s, and aches with the barbarities of the Second World War. Borges' Europe is one of pogroms, his Argentina a surreal magic kingdom (not always benign) full of tall, dark strangers and wizards.

When you understand the twists of Borges' stories, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up in a thrill reminiscent of 'I see dead people.' If I understood it consistently, I would love the entire colection. But sometimes I just feel stupid.

Some of the stories are so deeply erudite as to be in effect hermetically sealed against casual readers. 'Three Versions of Judas', though only a few pages long, is a tortuous marathon of theology, rambling footnotes in French (untranslated), and Scandinavian/Protestant 20th century political-religious satire. The majority of the stories require careful attention and an eye for the subtleties of Borges' humor. As his reader, you are assumed to be well-read, to the point of making you feel distinctly under-read.

Borges thrives in describing off-kilter dream states. He explores sacred geometries—labyrinths, rhombuses—through which his characters move toward heroic or anti-heroic transformation. Weird stuff. Captivating, strange, difficult.
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LibraryThing member rnarvaez
Reading Jorge Luis Borges is an experience akin to having the top of one's head removed for repairs. First comes the unfamiliar breeze tickling your cerebral cortex; then disorientation, even mild discomfort; and finally, the sense that the world has been irrevocably altered--and in this case, rendered infinitely more complex. First published in 1945, his Ficciones compressed several centuries' worth of philosophy and poetry into 17 tiny, unclassifiable pieces of prose. He offered up diabolical tigers, imaginary encyclopedias, ontological detective stories, and scholarly commentaries on nonexistent books, and in the process exploded all previous notions of genre.… (more)
LibraryThing member ursula
I'm not a huge fan of short stories, so I wasn't that thrilled when I picked this up and realized that's what I was in for. It was an odd collection - musings on reality, fate, chance, knowledge, faith, fate, to name a few. The stories vary in length and complexity (well, I believe they're all pretty complex; his writing is dense and multi-layered). Some are difficult to penetrate, some lead you right in. Themes, words, events and characters recur in various guises. The word "labyrinth" appears frequently, and appropriately (and yes, his book Labyrinths is also on the 1001 Books list).

At times, I wondered if I was really up to the task of reading these stories. Even his introductions to them (the stories are in two sections) are occasionally intimidating. He understates: "One of [the stories], "The Babylon Lottery," is not entirely innocent of symbolism." Of another, he says, "let it suffice for me to suggest that it can be read as a direct narrative of novelistic events, and also in another way." These are like the intros to puzzles, which is certainly appropriate.

I tell you all of that to tell you that I'm not sure I'm properly equipped to really have an opinion on this book. I'm positive some of it (much of it?) went over my head, and there are layers of meaning I would only approach on re-reading. The stories defy simple one-line synopses, so I'll only talk about a couple of them. One of my favorites was "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote," which is about a man determined to recreate Cervantes' masterpiece. Not reproduce, but recreate - he is trying to find a way to spontaneously write the same book (in the same archaic Spanish, of course). This leads to an amusing comparison between the works. The narrator of the story quotes Cervantes, and judges his words essentially unimaginative, but when the exact same words are quoted from Menard's version, "the idea is astounding." Parallels can be drawn to so many arts. Does it make a work more significant depending on who produced it and when? Does doing something the hard way make it more meaningful?

Another story I enjoyed was "The Library of Babel," about an infinite library containing all the books which can possibly be created. In this one, I found an echo of Lewis Carroll's words for Humpty Dumpty:

"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'"

Borges says, "An n number of possible languages makes use of the same vocabulary; in some of them, the symbol library admits of the correct definition ubiquitous and everlasting system of hexagonal galleries, but library is bread or pyramid or anything else, and the seven words which define it possess another value. You who read me, are you sure you understand my language?" (Especially rich for those of us who are reading in translation.)

Recommended for: people who like to use the word "meta," people who are interested in books that never existed, poetry lovers, non-believers in "reality," and people who enjoy cryptic crosswords.
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LibraryThing member medievalmama
Have read it in Spanish and in Borges' own translation into English. Two different books as he uses the older concept of translatio imagii rather than slavishly translating word-for-word. Got me into the whole realm of magical realism and almost made me double-major in Spanish,except that I could not do that and minor in writing. He has yet to be bested.… (more)
LibraryThing member sfhaa
For me, a great introduction to Borges. Some very persistent ideas with a mythical quality: realities, labyrinths, the nature of 'knowledge', plot arcs, storytelling, feedback loops. I already have JLB's Labyrinths lined up to read next.Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member lindayakle
Read the first time in grad school. Still one of the best.
LibraryThing member umkaaaa
I read this in a bilingual (Spanish - French) edition, but I found the Spanish to be at advanced level, a bit too hard for the intermediate speaker I am. What can I say... Borges has created (a) very special world. The stories show a lot of thought about the process of writing (many deal with texts that don't actually exist, or might not exist). I was not able to predict how any of the stories would go.… (more)
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
1040 Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges translated from the Spanish by Emece Editores (read 10 Jan 1970) In the final issue of Time in the Sixties there appeared a list of 20 Notable Books of the Sixties. Three of the ten Fiction items I have already read: Catch-22, Pale Fire, and Herzog. (The complete list is reproduced in my review here on LibraryThing of The First Circle, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.] Now I have read this book which is on the list. It is a book of short stories. The stories are odd, and I am sure I got little from them. The book is obsessed by time, with snatches of brilliance. But intelligent discussion by me of this book is not possible. My reading of it was too superficial.… (more)
LibraryThing member edwartica
I once stumped the great Don Miller (of Blue Like Jazz fame) with a story from this collection. Miller had a theory that "all fiction has a setting." I pulled out the story "The Babylonian lottery," (which sets itself up as a non-fiction piece but is all an elaborate piece of fiction - and thus does NOT have a setting).
But this review is not about bashing other authors. This review is about this wonderful collection of Borges short stories, essays, and what not. If you don't like Borges, you might not like this collection. If you are already a Borges fan, then you probably have read this piece.
What am I getting at, read it. Borges cannot be described in words, so I don't know why I even tried.
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LibraryThing member jamguest
My first foray into Jorge Luis Borges and least of it is that I am very intrigued and heartedly desire to read more of his work. The Library of Babel being my favorite, but The South is all parts great. Like Eco, hard to nail it down, and most definitely worthy of re-reads. Would benefit from outright discussion and an exegesis of the text, but who to talk to about it? (Interesting Note: Considered Chesterton a heavy influence, though widely differing world-view). Like GK in plots of stories: fantastical. But more advanced in literary adeptness and more focused on philosophy.… (more)
LibraryThing member CliffBurns
An excellent cross-section of the Master's work; you get a good look at his preoccupations, the scope and erudition of his unique oeuvre...
LibraryThing member katelattuca
This is my favourite exploration of the philosophical implications of language and literature. I am in love with Borges.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Borges' Ficciones consists of two "books" of 17 short works of fiction published mostly in the 1940s. I'm told they're landmarks in not just Latin American fiction but modernist literature. Woven throughout the stories are fantastic elements I can well imagine fed into magical realism. I can't say I adored these--they are odd certainly, often surreal, dealing with such recurring devices as labyrinths, "illusory encyclopedias" and an "infinite library," which I'm told inspired both Umberto Eco and Terry Pratchett--I can see that. I do admire the inventive way in which Borges plays with time and reality. Many of these short works seem to toy with concepts of physics as much as using the fantastical.

I think what distanced me was the style; it made for an emotionally arid experience. Some of the 17 shorts felt more like essays on imaginary subjects or puzzle pieces than stories; often they're pedantic, laden with literary allusions and including footnotes and even equations--yet rarely dialogue. At times the "I," present in most of these works, is identified as "Borges" himself and I found myself irked at times at such literary bagatelles--I couldn't sink into these stories. I (mildly) liked "The Circular Ruins," "The Garden of Forking Paths" and ""The Secret Miracle" (which is said to be the inspiration for the film, Inception) but by and large didn't find the stories engaging. Maybe something was lost in the translation? Also, after a while I found the plots rather predictable. When the twist came in "The Garden of Forking Paths" I wasn't the least bit surprised. The story might have had more impact if I'd read it in isolation, but by then a definite pattern had emerged. This anthology doesn't make me want to seek out more of Borges.
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LibraryThing member humdog
more from this brilliant, and under-rated (in english language cultures) author
LibraryThing member electrascaife
I generally stay away from short stories. For some reason I tend not to enjoy them, but I made an exception here because I've heard so many fantastic things about this particular collection. I'm so very glad that I did. Borges combines fantasy with the world of books in a way that makes me absolutely giddy: reviews of books that don't actually exist, the discovery of an encyclopedia detailing a country that never was, the description of a(n) (possibly) infinite labyrinthine library that includes every possible book that could ever possibly be written,... And he does it all so beautifully. If heaven itself were a book, it would look something like this.… (more)
LibraryThing member saltmanz
I adore Gene Wolfe, and one of his largest influences is the Argentinian author Borges. Allusions to Borges’ work abound in Wolfe’s, and I had recently read The Shadow of the Wind which had its own share of Borgesian elements, so I knew I had to eventually get around to reading the original. Holy wow. It’s easy to see the parallels between Wolfe and Borges; Borges is what you might get if you took Wolfe and removed all the sci-fi and fantastical elements, stripped it down to the raw, crystallized ideas. And concentrated it. Mind-blowing stuff, is what it is. “The Garden of Forking Paths” is one of my favorite stories ever.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kristelh
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Published 1944
3 stars

Ficciones by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges is really a work of a master. The work is a series of short stories by this incredibly intelligent author. These short stories have some common themes including libraries, books, philosophy, God reality and unreality. Borges was gradually growing blind and he also served as a librarian. The author was educated in Europe and while he is Argentinian his stories have various settings and various nationalities. He is truly a international author. The various stories that comprise Ficciones sometimes read as essays, are mixed with many non fictional characters and elements and require careful, slow reading and probably should be read many times to really appreciate the authors genius. I enjoyed some of these stories, some were difficult to read. I gave it 3 stars because I do think the author is great and that these stories represent a mastery and a forerunner of magical realism but it was also hard to read. I especially enjoyed Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius though it was struggle to read. I also enjoyed Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote, The Circular Ruins, The Babylon Lottery, Funes, the Memorious, Death and the Compass and Three Versions of Judas. Wikipedia provides a synopsis of each story and I found this very helpful.… (more)
LibraryThing member aviechu
I'm pretty sure I'm too dumb to understand everything, but the parts I do get are amazing!
LibraryThing member justine
Beautiful, compelling writing. Very dense little stories, Borges is a master of brevity and depth.
LibraryThing member leslie.98
There is something about South American writing I just don't seem to get. I found these stories strange & while not disagreeable, I couldn't really understand the purpose of many of them. Borges often uses the device of a labyrinth or maze & many of the stories revolve around a discussion of another (imaginary) book, which also struck me as a kind of maze (a story in a story in a story). Are these layers representing personality or reality or religion or something like that? I suppose so... I will have to think it over some more.… (more)


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