09 May 2009

Borges and the Eternal Orang-Utans

Written by Luis Fernando Verissimo, Borges and the Eternal Orang-Utans is clearly a parodic homage to Jorge Luis Borges, one of Dechito's favourite authors. The plot is a cross between two genres: detective fiction and campus novel, revolving around Vogelstein who has a cat called Aleph. He once translated Borges's short story and added what he thought would improve the story. Borges complained and this has left a sense of guilt on Vogelstein's mind, especially now when Borges is world famous. He longs to meet the Argentine author to make up for what he sees as academic carelessness on his part.

Fate works its way and one day Vogelstein finds out that Borges is to appear in a conference on Edgar Allan Poe in Buenos Aires. He doesn't hesitate to join the conference, only to find out that a keynote speaker is brutally stabbed to death. Suspects abound as the speaker himself is notoriously vicious and spiteful, always on alert to discredit aspiring scholars who wish to be on his par.

The premise is petty and serious at the same time, as academic wrangling leads to a murder in a locked room, the scenario made famous by none other than Poe himself. Of course, there is no orang-utan this time, as most readers who are acquainted with Borges would also be familiar with Poe, naturally. The body of the victim also lies in a weird position, leading to further ruminations on the part of Vogelstein, the witness, who is now working with Borges to find the solution to this mystery.

This simple summary should be interesting enough, but Verissimo manages to add more elements, such as Dan Brown's famous deciphering of arcane codes and Agatha Christie's unreliable narrator (popularised by her The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). Thus, what results in this novella is a highly interesting and fun read, especially suitable for Borges fanatics. The homage to Borges is the last part whereby he 'rereads' what Vogelstein tells him, showing that the Argentine author is always one step further despite his awkward manners and almost blindness.

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