Universal History of Iniquity

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The short histories of miscreants that (mostly) constitute this volume are re-writings of originals which Borges read elsewhere. They nevertheless possess the quintessential characteristic that makes Borges stories what they are: A reimagining of the world in terms of new continents and aesthetically appealing concepts, but none the less lived and human. The misdeeds told of here are not depicted with gore to scare the user; they are in a sense the natural result of the evil world in which their protagonists exist. One even gets the impression that Borges prefers dark and sordid themes, but I think he simply sees that the complexity of human life is revealed even more sumptuously when told around such themes. In addition to the stories of iniquity, this book contains short texts that Borges claims to have translated directly form others, though this claim –according to the translator’s note– is a bit doubtful. These mystic bits are more similar to his later stories as in the The Aleph, and are just as enjoyable as the preceding histories.

The delightful surprise for me in this book was the meticulous footnotes and the “Note on the Translation” at the end. Andrew Hurley has gone beyond the line of duty, and in addition to making an excellent translation, enriched Borges’ work with an enlightening text on what Borges thinks of translations, and how this has guided this inidividual translation. According to Borges, Hurley writes, every individual translation is a new rendering of the original, a replanting on a foreign soil. For this reason, he has refrained from reacting to the previous translations of this same book, and tried to create a work that reflects what he hears when he listens to Borges.

The extremely enjoyable stories, beautiful translation and the note on translation will make this one of the Borges books in my library to which I will go back frequently.