"The Aleph" by Jorge Luis Borges

"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Friday, February 16, 2018, Time: 12:30-3:00

Location: Skokie Library, Book Discussion Room

See below for PDF versions of the stories

"The Aleph" begins in 1943 with the narrator informing the reader of his love for Beatriz Viterbo, who (we are told) died in 1929. In an effort to devote himself "to her memory," the narrator began visiting Beatriz's father and cousin, Carlos Argentino Daneri, every April 30th—Beatriz's birthday. These visits occurred every year, and Borges gradually ingratiated himself with Beatriz's father and cousin to the point where they began asking him to dinner. As the story progresses over the year, Carlos introduces the narrator to a magical sphere, which Carlos names an Aleph.  And the story continues…
In his 1969 study The Narrow Act: Borges's Art of Allusion, Ronald J. Christ offers an important piece of advice to anyone reading Borges for the first time: "The point of origin for most of Borges's fiction is neither character nor plot . . . but, instead, as in science fiction, a proposition, an idea, a metaphor, which, because of its ingenious or fantastic quality, is perhaps best call[ed] a conceit." "The Aleph" certainly fits this description, for while it does possess the elements of traditional fiction, it is more concerned with exploring the "conceit" of infinity: if there were a point in space that contained all other points, and one could look at it, what would one see—and how would one describe what he or she saw to another person? Such are the questions raised by Borges's story.

"The Aleph" was first published in the Argentine journal Sur in 1945 and was included as the title work in the 1949 collection The Aleph. Like so many of Borges's other stories, essays, and poems, "The Aleph" is an attempt to explore and dramatize a philosophical or scientific riddle. To date, the story stands as one of Borges's most well-known and representative works.


“The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” begins with the children of the seaside fishing village. They see the drowned man floating ashore; at first they think he is an enemy ship, then a whale. The discovery that he is a drowned man does not dampen their sense of play at all: They proceed, in the beach sand, to bury and dig him up repeatedly. Responsible adults see the drowned man and take over. The village men carry the body to the village, noting that the drowned man is enormously heavy, tall, and encrusted with ocean debris. Even though his face is covered, they know he is a stranger because no man in the village is missing. Instead of going fishing that night, the men leave the body with the women and visit neighboring villages to check if the drowned man belongs to one of them. The story goes on to tell us how this “man” and the event affects the people of the village.

Garcia Marquez, considered by many to be Colombia's foremost writer, has gained much of his recognition by writing stories that operate on a mythical, almost allegorical, level. "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" takes this type of storytelling into a realm of the fantastic that seems to have no connection to a particular time or place. While drawing direct parallels between specific locations and time periods is possible, the nature of Garcia Marquez's work is such that readers can understand his characters not only as inhabitants of a local village but, simultaneously, as universal examples of the human race as well, "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" has always interested critics, both those who interpret the story as a comment on Colombian history or politics and those who seek more global applications for the lessons the story imparts. Many post-modern writers have shown interest in Garcia Marquez's work as well. They include Chilean writer Isabelle Allende and American writer Toni Morrison, both of whom have adapted Garcia Marquez's magic realism approach in their own works.


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Philip Zawa,
Jan 13, 2018, 9:58 AM
Philip Zawa,
Jan 13, 2018, 10:04 AM