That which we call a rose…

It took a graceful, witty little number like Luis Fernando Verissimo‘s  Borges e os Orangotangos Eternos (Borges and the Eternal Orangutans, trans. Margaret Jull Costa for New Directions) to distract me from the tech frenzy that had gripped me for the past few weeks. And oh, what a sweet dalliance it was.

It’s a slender volume, best read in one sitting (I’ve been seeing this a lot these days – notable exceptions aside), but Verissimo manages to pack in quite a lot. The novel, which is essentially a mystery by Poe read through Borges read through Verissimo (and then back again through…), begins with a letter from its protagonist Vogelstein to his literary idol, Jorge Luis Borges. We learn that, some years earlier, Vogelstein committed the cardinal sin of translation: he decided to “improve” a detective story written by Borges as he translated it into Portuguese by changing the ending to “add a bit of blood and inventiveness.” Once he discovers whose work he had muddled, Vogelstein is overcome by remorse and begins to write obsessively to the Argentine author. The communication is decidedly one-sided. So Vogelstein sets out to meet his idol, to apologize in person, and to pay him homage in the way only a superfan could.

With its bookish in-jokes and a healthy servings of gore, Borges e os Orangutangos Eternos is a satisfying jaunt down the rabbit hole.  But we expected no less, given the book’s title: a combination of Poe’s own “bad faith” ending in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and the infinite monkey theorem (a monkey, given a typewriter and an infinite amount of time, would eventually produce one of the Great Works of Western Literature). A fitting allusion for a book that plays so fast and loose with the literary figures it juggles between its covers…

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