Jorge Luis Borges is considered to be a big name in the tradition of magical realism which emerged from the lands of Latin American Literature. Another big name in this genre is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who continues to mesmerise readers across the globe.
Borges emerged as a great fiction writer but always claimed that poetry was his first preference. It was sheer coincidence that drove him towards story writing: he suffered severe injuries in an accident and doctors were sceptical about his creative abilities since they thoughthe would not be able to perform as well as he had in the past. At that moment he turned his attention towards fiction with the view that if he was unsuccessful in producing good literature, nobody would scold or criticise him much considering him an outsider and non-practitioner in fiction.
Thus he wrote stories and got them published. He soon became famous. His stories had complicated plots, fantasy, crime, and a mythological ambience. In the wake of the Marquez phenomenon, the world grew interested in the literary heritage of Latin America, and Borges attracted a huge global fan following.
Now, Borges’ world is available to Urdu readers. The book under review, Borges Kahanian is a commendable step by noted novelist and translator Muhammad Asim Butt – it offers us the masterpieces of Borges, one of the most admired fiction writers of the 20th century.
At40, Borges suffered from blindness which he inherited from his father. The blindness deepened his imagination and sharpened his abilities and craftsmanship as a story writer. Labyrinths, mirrors, chess games, forking paths, mythologies, conspiracies, detective plots, and complex intellectual landscapes make his private world of fictioncolourful as well as queer. But at the same time his extraordinary command over language grasps the attention of the readers and seduces them. His friend and sometime collaborator Adolfo BioyCasares called his writings “halfway houses between an essay and a story”.
He invented authors, books, islands, world, societies, and historical events. He created a whole new and strange world in his fiction. Blending fantasy, mythology, imagination, mathematical plots and crime in his stories, he gave literature a new, fresh taste. J. M. Coetzee, a South African novelist, said of Borges: “He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists“.
Now to talk about the translator. Besides writing novels and short stories which, over the years, have won acclaim, Asim Butt has been active in translating world fiction into Urdu.
He has a tome to his credit, containing numerous important short stories and shorter pieces of Franz Kafka, in Urdu. His first novel, Daira captured the attention of all serious Urdu readers and critics, as it was a pithy portrayal of a life in the walled city of Lahore, where he was born. Another novel of his, Natamam won the UBL Literary Excellence Award a few years ago and another of his novel,Ios, is about to hit bookstalls.
For the book under review, Asim Butt has translated more than 50 stories of Borges, selected from seven of his story collections including;Ficciones, The Aleph, Dreamtigers, Doctor Brodie’s Report, The Book of Sand, Shakespeare’s Memory. As he mentions in his preface, the stories were translated long ago, but now he reviewed them had them published.
Being a master fiction writer himself, Asim Butt has worked hard to keep Borges’ peculiar literary flavour intact, which could easily getlost in translation. Earlier only a few of Borges’ stories were translated into Urdu and now Asim Butt has taken a giant and commendable leap by giving Urdu readers access to many more stories.
Translated by: Muhammad Asim Butt
Publisher: Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore
Price: Rs 700