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the Complete Review
the complete review - interviews

Seven Conversations
with Jorge Luis Borges

Fernando Sorrentino

general information | our review | links | about the interviewer

To purchase Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges

Title: Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges
Author: Fernando Sorrentino
Genre: Interviews
Written: 1974 (Eng. 1982)
Length: 147 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges - US
Siete conversaciones con Jorge Luis Borges - US
Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges - UK
Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges - Canada
  • Spanish title: Siete conversaciones con Jorge Luis Borges
  • The interviews were conducted in 1972
  • With forewords and prologues by Clark M. Zlotchew, Jorge Luis Borges, and Fernando Sorrentino
  • With an Appendix of 'Hispanic Personalities'
  • Translated by Clark M. Zlotchew

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Our Assessment:

B+ : quite informative and interesting

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges were conducted in 1972 over the course of seven afternoons; these are not separate interviews, but rather a single extended one, covering much of Borges' life and work and especially his opinions. Sorrentino begins and deals with the basics -- "When and where was Jorge Luis Borges born ?" is the first question --, but the conversation moves and flows quite naturally, as Sorrentino does not proceed like a biographer: biographical detail emerges from their back and forth, but many aspects -- the writing and reception of specific books, for example -- are only mentioned incidentally.
       That Borges was a very bookish man has always been self-evident; with these conversations conducted in the National Library, of which he was director at that time, he is very much in his element -- and his love of books made clear from the start:

Before I ever wrote a single line, I knew, in some mysterious and therefore unequivocal way, that I was destined for literature. What I didn't realize at first is that besides being destined to be a reader, I was also destined to be a writer, and I don't think one is less important than the other.
       Borges is careful when asked about his own work -- even going so far as to admit about his more recent work:
it could be that I am now in a state of decline and my current works could reflect a sort of decadence in me.
       Amusingly, he also admits to his work, with its life of its own, often being in various regards beyond him. He admits of his collaboration with Adolfo Bioy Casares:
There are times when I don't understand what we've written.
       And also that:
there are many people who are much better acquainted with what I've written than I am. At times they've asked me questions which have completely perplexed me. They've spoken to me concerning the character of such-and-such a personage. I'd ask what personage they were talking about, and it would turn out it was a character in a story of mine and I had forgotten him altogether without ever intending to.
       Most of all, however, Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges is a book of opinions, as Borges responds to questions about the writers and people in his life. It's interesting to note that he places such significance on character, preferring Fray Luis de León to Quevedo largely because he: "was a better person". Similarly, he takes pride that while Leopoldo Lugones didn't think much of Borges' juvenile verse:
I think he held me in high regard as a person, and that's much more important, isn't it ?
       Borges' literary judgements are unusual, as he admits. When Sorrentino asks why he favors some authors who are not considered major figures, and thinks less of those more widely admired, Borges answers:
I attribute this predilection of mine to the fact that I judge literature in a hedonistic manner. That is, I judge literature according to the pleasure or emotion it inspires in me.
       Among the many appealing observations Borges makes is one about the consequences of being forced to read some works in translation, rather than the original language:
Not knowing Greek and Arabic allowed me to read, so to speak, the Odyssey and The Thousand and One Nights in many different versions, so that this poverty also brought me a kind of richness.
       Usefully, this volume includes an extensive Appendix of 'Hispanic Personalities', offering brief descriptions of the many, many authors and people Borges and Sorrentino mention over the course of their conversations. And the book also includes an excellent set of notes, many added for the English editions: to cite just one example: Borges mentions writing poems "dedicated to the Russian Revolution" in his youth -- and destroying all of these, but Clark M. Zlotchew found a picture of a manuscript of one of these (in an issue of a French magazine dedicated to Borges) and prints a translation of it in the endnotes.
       An informative (and readable) set of quite casual conversations, Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges is a very useful book in providing background information about Borges, especially about his literary tastes and opinions.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 March 2010

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Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges: Reviews: Jorge Luis Borges: Other Borges-related books under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Interviewer:

       Argentine writer Fernando Sorrentino was born in 1942.

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