four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
18-Sept-Oct-2005
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0

A-BorgesOrangutansThings begin innocently enough: devotees come together for an annual conference on the life and work of Edgar Allen Poe, held in Argentina. An Argentine teacher, translator, and longtime Poe fan named Vogelstein decides to attend. After all, his hero Jorge Luis Borges, as well as two noted Poe scholars, Joachim Rotkopf and Xavier Urquiza, will be there. There’s no love lost between Rotkopf and Urquiza, and Vogelstein can’t wait to see their battles played out in person. But on the first night of the conference, Rotkopf is killed in his hotel room in a scenario that mimics the "locked door" murder in Poe’s short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." Vogelstein and Borges pair up to discover whodunit.
New Directions. 135 pages. $13.95. ISBN: 081121592X

Los Angeles Times 5 of 5 Stars
"Luis Fernando Verissimo’s Borges and the Eternal Orangutans is a perfect novel. I’ll say it again: This book is a perfect novel." Thomas McGonigle

Philadelphia Inquirer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Wry, puzzling, and awash in multiple meanings, Borges pays homage to its various inspirations without the deadening reverence such homage often includes. ‘I will try to be your eyes,’ Vogelstein writes to Borges at the beginning. ‘I will try to keep the genius of your style alive,’ Verissimo might have added. And he has." Carlin Romano

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Most writers feel passionate about Borges, but few would have the temerity to put the enigmatic sage into their fiction. … Yet Brazilian novelist Luis Fernando Verissimo has such temerity, as well as the talent to pull it off. Borges and The Eternal Orangutans does the master proud." Melvin Jules Bukiet

Financial Times [London] 4 of 5 Stars
"… to enjoy this new, short and witty jeu d’esprit you do not have to be a mad Borgesian, but it helps. … This is a true literary mystery in its own right, as well as a homage to Borges and a book that will ensure we have trouble taking academic conferences too seriously ever again."

Daily Telegraph 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Verissimo’s novel is constructed like a giant crossword, with its information scrambled. It is up to the nerdy translator to find a meaning in the clues." James Francken

Critical Summary

This is, above all, a clever book. Literary references—not just to Poe and Borges, but also to the Bible and to the titular monkeys who might produce a Shakespeare play if sat for an eternity before a typewriter—abound. Verissimo blends mystery, highbrow literary commentary, and philosophical speculation while spinning a suspenseful, believable plot. The characters are equally ingenious; you’ll be willing to follow them anywhere. Fans of A. S. Byatt and Iain Pears will particularly enjoy the literary mysteries the novel offers, but it will appeal to a wide audience as well.

Supplemental Reading

For Borges biographies, we recommend Borges: A Life by James Woodall (1996) rather than last years’s Borges: A Life by Edwin Williamson (2004). One place to start with Borges’s work is Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (1964).