Borges and Me is the first book I’ve read by American author Jay Parini. I had read Ficciones by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, but I thought I wasn’t ready for Borges yet when I finished it. While reading this book by Parini, besides Borges, I came across many writers and poets, some of which I heard for the first time and some of which I would like to remember again. Borges and Me is one of those books that I couldn’t put down.
Borges and Me is a novelised memoir that flows through both the subject and the author Parini’s beautiful narration and throws the reader into the minds of both Borges and Parini. It is a novelised memoir because Parini can only remember a little of bit of what happened with Borges fifty years ago, and as he himself stated, some events are actual. In contrast, others are fictional based on reality as much as possible.
Before readingBorges and Me, I thought I would read almost entirely about Borges. But Parini has managed to surprise me more than enough, and indeed in a pleasant way. This memoir is about Parini, Borges, many other authors, Scotland and America of the 1970s, and a book about poetry.
While reading Borges and Me, I realized that I must have a notebook with me at all times. You get lost in so many poems, so many writers and poets to take note of, and Borges’s mind-blowing sentences. And of course, Parini describes the beautiful nature of Scotland charmingly. Because Borges is blind, he wants Parini to be his eyes on his trips to Scotland. Scotland comes to life in the reader’s mind as Parini tells Borges as much as he can about what he saw.
Borges and Me actually begins when Parini meets the Scottish poet Alastair Reid. Running away from the Vietnam War and his family, Parini becomes a graduate student of literature at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The reader is as impressed as Parini is by Alastair Reid and his extraordinary son Jasper. One cannot help but be jealous of Parini, who met Borges thanks to Alastair Reid and toured Scotland with him. On the one hand, we read about Parini’s self-discovery, his losses in the war, and this impressive family he made for himself in Scotland.
On the other hand, we witness how Borges, one of the geniuses of literature, fascinated everyone in his environment and how he got into one’s blood. In particular, Borges shared a moment with a clergyman that I will never forget; he shook me to my bones. I can’t help but mention that Alastair Reid is also a striking person; When I finished Borges and Me, I immediately read a few of his poems and especially admired Curiosity.
Borges and Me is a fascinating book in every way. After finishing it, I realised that I wanted to read more memoirs or biographies about Borges. At the same time, I thought it would be great to read memoirs from different authors. Thanks to memoirs like these, I understood the value of non-fiction books a lot more. This year, I’ve decided to read as many memoirs as possible. I’m sure it will have the same effect when you read this beautiful book. Enjoy!
Borges and Me An Encounter
Borges and Me: In this evocative work of what the author in his Afterword calls ‘autofiction’ or ‘a kind of novelised memoir’, Jay Parini takes us back fifty years, when he fled the United States for Scotland. He was in frantic flight from the Vietnam War and desperately in search of his adult life. There, through unlikely circumstances, he met famed Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges.
Borges was in his seventies, blind and frail. Parini was asked to look after him while his translator was unexpectedly called away. When Borges heard that Parini owned a 1957 Morris Minor, he declared a long-held wish to visit the Scottish Highlands, where he hoped to meet a man in Inverness who was interested in Anglo-Saxon riddles. As they travelled, the charmingly garrulous Borges took Parini on a grand tour of western literature and ideas while promising to teach him about love and poetry. As Borges’s world of labyrinths, mirrors and doubles shimmered into being, their escapades took a surreal turn.
Borges and Me is a classic road novel, based on true events. It’s also a magical tour of an era – like our own – in which uncertainties abound, and when – as ever – it’s the young and the old who hear voices and dream dreams.
Jay Parini (born April 2, 1948) is an American writer and academic. He is known for novels, poetry, biography, screenplays and criticism. He has published novels about Leo Tolstoy, Walter Benjamin, Paul the Apostle, and Herman Melville.
Parini was born in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and brought up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Lafayette College in 1970 and was awarded a doctorate by the University of St. Andrews in 1975.
He taught at Dartmouth College from 1975 to 1982, and has taught since 1982 at Middlebury College, where he is the D.E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing. In 1976, Parini co-founded the New England Review with Sydney Lea. Parini was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. He was the Fowler Hamilton Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford University, in 1993–1994. He was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of London in 2005–2006. He is a member of the Board of Visitors of Ralston College, a liberal arts college in Savannah that was founded in February, 2010.
Parini has written eight novels, many of which are about the lives of literary icons, and narratives from his own personal life. His 1990 international best-selling novel The Last Station is about the final months of Leo Tolstoy. It was translated into over thirty languages, and adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film (The Last Station) starring Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, and Paul Giamatti. The film was released in December 2009.
Parini’s historical novel Benjamin’s Crossing was a New York Times Notable Book of the year in 1997. It is about the Jewish critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin, and his escape over the Pyrenees from Nazi occupied France into Spain. Michael Lackey notes, “Parini brilliantly dramatizes one of Benjamin’s most important contributions to intellectual history, and it is this contribution that would pave the way for the biographical novel.” The Passages of H.M. (2010) explores the literary great Herman Melville. His most recent novel is The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul (2019).
Parini’s biography Robert Frost: A Life won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for best non-fiction book of the year in 2000. He has also written notable biographies of John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and Jesus. His biography One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner was a New York Times Bestseller. His biography of his longtime friend, the late Gore Vidal, Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal (Doubleday, October 2015), was called “A superbly personal biography that pulsates with intelligence, scholarship, and heart.” by Kirkus Reviews. Parini figures prominently in the 2013 documentary film Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.
He has published non-fiction books on a variety of subjects, including Theodore Roethke, an American Romantic (1980), Some Necessary Angels: Essays on Writing and Politics (1997), The Art of Teaching (2005), Why Poetry Matters (2008), Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America (2008), The Way of Jesus: Living a Spiritual and Ethical Life (2018), and Borges and Me: An Encounter (2020).
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: