The Garden of Forking Paths ★★★★☆
Jorge Luis Borges
Genre(s) | Short Stories, Philosophy, Magical Realism
Goodreads Rating | 4.38
Humpo Show Rating | 3.75
Publisher: Penguin Modern
Fantastical tales of mazes, puzzles, lost labyrinths and bookish mysteries, from the unique imagination of a literary magician.
My first Penguin Modern is a series of Borges’ short stories, including his famous The Garden of Forking Paths, as well as The Book of Sand, The Circular Ruins, and Death and the Compass. There is also one page titled On Exactitude in Science. The stories are intricately written, and Borges’ repertoire of language is on full display as he manages to conjure up absorbing short stories that make use of many philosophical and high literature tropes.
The brevity of Borges’ writing is found throughout this edition, but none more so than the fascinating The Garden of Forking Paths. Set during the First World War, a Chinese spy living in England and working for Germany, has had his cover blown and he is on the run with sensitive information. Events take a philosophical turn as he encounters The Garden of Forking Paths, splits in time, rather than space, and all the possible outcomes that occur.
“The Garden of Forking Paths is a huge riddle, or parable, whose subject is time.”
“(There is) an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times. This web of time–the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries–embraces EVERY possibility.”
Borges’ work comes down to that point- we are living countless lives, where we all make different decisions, and end up making a variety of decisions different from the time we are inhabiting at this moment in time. I can see this short story being studied, debated and talked about by students, scholars, literature lovers and philosophers for any years to come.
My second favourite short story that I would like to discuss is The Book of Sand. A travelling Bible salesman sells a holy book from India, The Book of Sand, so called because “neither sand nor this book has a beginning or an end.” It is written in an unknown script, with occasionally illustrations, and page numbers that are non-sequential and change every time.
In this short story, readers might have a familiar image in their mind- Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, and his obsession with The One Ring. Of course there is a deeper meaning to the story, as is the case for all of the short stories in this collection, but again Borges uses the theme of time and the infinite. This time he utilises these themes in the form of a mysterious book, which mirrors man’s search for the world’s existence, concluding that it is endless and fruitless search.
This Penguin Modern of Borges’ short stories was fascinating to read, and having been in a mindset to read something deemed a classic with a philosophical nature attributed to it- I have recently read and not enjoyed Kafka’s The Trial– it was good to read Borges’ work, as it was written in absorbing style, and the stories were succinct and thought-provoking.