The Book of Sand

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This article is about the short story. For the short story collection in which it was published, see The Book of Sand (book).
"The Book of Sand"
Author Jorge Luis Borges
Original title "El libro de arena"
Country Argentina
Language Spanish
Genre(s) Fantasy, short story
Published in The Book of Sand
Media type Print
Publication date 1975
Published in English 1977

"The Book of Sand" — in its original Spanish, "El libro de arena" — is a 1975 short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). It has parallels to the same author's 1949 story "The Zahir" (revised 1974), continuing the theme of self-reference and attempting to abandon the terribly infinite.

The story was first published in 1975, in Spanish, as the last of 13 stories in a book of the same name. The first English translation — by Norman Thomas di Giovanni — was published in The New Yorker; the entire volume The Book of Sand (ISBN 0-525-47540-0) first appeared in English in 1977.

Plot summary[edit]

An unnamed narrator is visited by a tall Scots Bible-seller, who presents him with a very old cloth-bound book that he bought in India from an Untouchable. It is emblazoned with the title "Holy Writ", but is said to be called "The Book of Sand"..."because neither the book nor the sand has any beginning or end". Upon opening it, he is startled to discover that the book, which is written in an unknown language and occasionally punctuated by illustrations, is in fact infinite: if one turns the pages, more pages seem to grow out of the front and back covers. He trades a month of his pension and a prized Wycliffe Bible for the "Book of Sand" and hides it on a bookshelf behind his copy of One Thousand and One Nights. Over the summer, the narrator obsesses over the book, poring over it, cataloging its illustrations, and refusing to go outside for fear of its theft. In the end, realizing that the book is monstrous, he briefly considers burning it before fearing the possibility of the smoke of an infinite book suffocating the world. Instead, he goes to the National Library where he once worked (like Borges) to lose it among the basement bookshelves, reasoning that "the best place to hide a leaf is in a forest".


I was acting out the role of the older Borges dangling from a tower and facing death while the younger one danced below. I was in such pain as I'd cut my foot while climbing the tower. My blood was dripping onto the stage as I strummed a zither to make those dying breath sounds.[1]

  • The story was adapted by the Saudi filmmaker Bader Al-Homoud in his online film [2] and was selected as an Official Honoree in the 18th Annual Webby Awards.[3]


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