Borges and Me: An Encounter

Doubleday. Aug. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9780385545822. $27.95. LIT
Novelist, poet, and biographer Parini (English, creative writing, Middlebury Coll.; Damascus Road; Why Poetry Matters) here relates his time in Scotland as a literature student in the 1970s at the University of St. Andrews, where he first met the Argentinian author and poet Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). Alastair Reid, Parini’s mentor and a fellow poet, introduced the pair, and using this initial encounter as a starting point, Parini weaves a brilliant narrative touching on Borges’s singular writing style, the effects of aging on the author (Borges was around 70 and blind when Parini met him), and the workings of a perpetually active mind as seen through the lens of Borges’s literary reality. The resulting portraiture of the two men—Borges and Parini, whom Borges always addressed as “Giuseppe”—further boasts passages of somewhat oddly placed profanity and allusions to the lives of other writers and poets such as Walt Whitman. Parini’s cook even makes an appearance, comfortably fitting into a narrative reflecting Borges’s ficto-historical sensibility.
VERDICT Essential for Borges’s legions of fans, as well as those who enjoy literary memoirs by experimental writers whose works play a bit more loosely with the facts.
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