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" (original Spanish title: "El libro de arena") is a 1975 short story by Jorge Luis Borges. It has parallels to "The Zahir", continuing the theme of self-reference and attempting to abandon the terribly infinite.

The story appears in a book of the same name, the Spanish language version of which was first published in 1975. The English translation by Norman Thomas di Giovanni was first published in The New Yorker; the entire volume The Book of Sand (ISBN 0-525-47540-0) was published in 1977.

Plot summary[edit]

A fictionalized version of Borges himself meets an elderly Scottish Bible seller, who hands him a cloth-bound book that he bought in India called The Book of Sand, "because neither the book nor the sand has any beginning or end". Upon opening the book, Borges is shocked 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 book. He trades his retirement pension and a Wycliffe Bible to the bookseller in exchange for the Book of Sand and places it on a bookshelf behind his copy of Arabian Nights.

Over the summer, Borges obsesses over the book, poring over it, cataloging its illustrations, and refusing to go outside for fear of its theft. In the end, upon realizing that the book is a monster, 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 to hide it in one of the basement bookshelves, reasoning that "the best place to hide a leaf is in a forest".


The story (retitled The Sandbook) was turned into an experimental dance piece by Esther Linley's dance company for the 1994 Donaufestival in Austria. The soundtrack to the piece was written by renowned German musician Hans-Joachim Roedelius and was released the same year as Theatreworks, an album that was chosen as album of the month by music magazine The Wire. Roedelius also featured as an actor in the piece, he remembers:

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]


External links[edit]