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Labyrinths cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorJorge Luis Borges
TranslatorJames E. Irby, Donald A. Yates, John M. Fein, Harriet de Onís, Julian Palley, Dudley Fitts, L.A. Murillo
CountryUnited States
GenreMagical realism, fantasy, metafiction, surrealism
PublisherNew Directions
Published in English
Media typePrint (paperback)

Labyrinths (1962, 1964, 1970, 1983) is an award-winning collection of short stories and essays by Jorge Luis Borges translated into the English language, published soon after Borges won the International Publishers' Prize with Samuel Beckett.[1]

It includes, among other stories, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", "The Garden of Forking Paths", and "The Library of Babel", three of Borges' most famous stories. Many of the stories are from the collections Ficciones (1944) and El Aleph (1949). The edition, published only in English, was edited by James E. Irby and Donald A. Yates, with a Preface by André Maurois of the Académie française and an Introduction by Professor Irby.


Besides the different stories and essays by Borges described below, the book also contains a preface and introduction, an elegy for Borges, a chronology of Borges' life, and a bibliography.



  • The Argentine Writer and Tradition
  • The Wall and the Books
  • The Fearful Sphere of Pascal
  • Partial Magic in the Quixote
  • Valéry as Symbol
  • Kafka and His Precursors
  • Avatars of the Tortoise
  • The Mirror of Engimas
  • A Note on (toward) Bernard Shaw
  • A New Refutation of Time


  • Inferno, I, 32
  • Paradiso, XXXI, 108
  • Ragnarök
  • Parable of Cervantes and the Quixote
  • The Witness
  • A Problem
  • Borges and I
  • Everything and Nothing


André Maurois in the Preface of Labyrinths provides a critical overview of Borges' work. He makes three main points: first, that Borges was highly influenced by his wide and obscure reading, making the assertion that, "His sources are innumerable and unexpected. Borges has read everything, and especially what nobody reads any more: the Cabalists, the Alexandrine Greeks, medieval philosophers. His erudition is not profound ― he asks of it only flashes of lightning and ideas ― but it is vast.". Second, that Borges has many precursors, but is in the end, almost entirely unique - "... once these relationships are pointed out, it must be said that Borges's style is, like his thought, highly original". In this Maurois notes that to some extent, "'Every writer creates his own precursors'", finally noting that Borges' stories can be described by "'an absurd postulate developed to its extreme logical consequences'", making "a game for [Borges'] mind". This, he claims, reflects Borges' interest in metaphysics and philosophy, and leads to his style of magical realism.


Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Spanish-language literature. His best-known books, Ficciones (Fictions) and El Aleph (The Aleph), published in the 1940s, are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes, including dreams, labyrinths, philosophy, libraries, mirrors, fictional writers, and mythology.[2] Borges' works have contributed to philosophical literature and the fantasy genre, and have been considered by some critics to mark the beginning of the magic realist movement in 20th century Latin American literature.[3]

Born in a suburb of Buenos Aires, Borges later moved with his family to Switzerland in 1914, where he studied at the Collège de Genève. In 1955, he was appointed director of the National Public Library and professor of English Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. He became completely blind by the age of 55. Scholars have suggested that his progressive blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination.[4] By the 1960s, his work was translated and published widely in the United States and Europe. Borges himself was fluent in several languages.

In 1961, he came to international attention when he received the first Formentor prize (Prix International), which he shared with Samuel Beckett. In 1971, he won the Jerusalem Prize. His international reputation was consolidated in the 1960s, aided by his works being available in English, by the Latin American Boom and by the success of García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.[5] He dedicated his final work, The Conspirators, to the city of Geneva, Switzerland.[6]


Labyrinths' principal editor and translator is James Irby, Professor Emeritus at Princeton.[7] Irby's work on Labyrinths includes the book's Introduction and translations of the stories Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, The Circular Ruins, The Library of Babel, Funes the Memorious, Theme of the Traitor and the Hero, Three Versions of Judas, The Sect of the Phoenix, The Immortal, The Theologians, Story of the Warrior and the Captive, The House of Asterion, Averroes' Search, and The Waiting: fourteen titles in all, and by far the lion's share of the translation work for the book.

The balance of the translations are by Donald A. Yates, Professor Emeritus of Spanish American literature at Michigan State University; John M. Fein, Professor Emeritus, Spanish, in the Department of Romance Languages at Duke University; Julian Palley (September 16, 1925 - December 20, 2014) of the University of California, Irvine; and author and prize-winning translator Harriet de Onís.

Publication information[edit]

Originally published by New Directions Publishing,

There is also a Modern Library hardcover edition, ISBN 978-0-394-60449-7.

General reception[edit]

On the book's release, Mildred Adams at The New York Times wrote of it, "The translations, made by various hands, are not only good they are downright enjoyable. They make it finally possible, after all these years, to give Borges his due and to add North Americans to his wide public."[8] In 2012, Jake Arnott, an author writing for The Independent, observed, "Like many of my generation, I first encountered him in the Penguin edition of Labyrinths, a collection of stories, essays, parables and poetry. An excellent compendium, it's a sort of collection of collections which I find a little frustrating (although it mirrors his theme of recursiveness). More recently, there has been the reissue of all of his short stories: Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley. But this new translation, commissioned by his estate after his death, has proved controversial. The battle over Borges's legacy in English has become as Daedalian as one of his faux literary essays. It's hard to know where to begin rereading."[9] Whether Arnott means whether or not to start with Irby's & Yates' original Labyrinths or Hurley's more recent effort, or is simply pondering which of the fictions to begin re-reading in translation, is unclear.

Alberto Manguel, an author writing for The Guardian, opines that, "since the first American translations of Borges, attempted in the Fifties by well-intentioned admirers such as Donald Yates and James Irby, English-speaking readers have been very poorly served. From the uneven versions collected in Labyrinths to the more meticulous, but ultimately unsuccessful, editions published by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, from Ruth Simm's abominable apery of 'Other Inquisitions' to Paul Bowles's illiterate rendition of 'The Circular Ruins', Borges in English must be read in spite of the translations.".[10]

It should be noted that Manguel is in error when speaking of attempts at translation made in the 1950s by 'well-intentioned admirers such as Donald Yates and James Irby', when the bulk of Professor Irby's translations were made expressly for the book under discussion which was first published in 1962, Professor Irby being no mere 'admirer', but a long-time tenured specialist in Latin American literature, as indeed were all of his collaborators on Labyrinths.[11] Any 'unevenness' cited by this misinformed critic for the book overall may be due to the translations being by various authors with differing styles (although the bulk of the important fictions were translated by Professors Irby and Yates themselves).


In 2008 the London Society of Authors selected Labyrinths as one of the fifty outstanding translations from the last fifty years.[12]


  1. ^ Reid, Alastair. "In Borges's Labyrinth". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  2. ^ David Wheatley (Director) (1983). Profile of a Writer: Borges and I (Feature Documentary). Arena.
  3. ^ Theo L. D'Haen (1995) "Magical Realism and Postmodernism: Decentering Privileged Centers", in: Louis P. Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, Magical Realism: Theory, History and Community. Duhan and London, Duke University Press pp. 191–208.
  4. ^ In short, Borges' blindness led him to favour poetry and shorter narratives over novels. Ferriera, Eliane Fernanda C. "O (In) visível imaginado em Borges". In: Pedro Pires Bessa (ed.). Riqueza Cultural Ibero-Americana. Campus de Divinópolis-UEMG, 1996, pp. 313–14.
  5. ^ (in Portuguese) Masina, Lea. (2001) "Murilo Rubião, o mágico do conto". In: O pirotécnico Zacarias e outros contos escolhidos. Porto Alegre: L & PM, pg. 5.
  6. ^ Borges on Life and Death, Interview by Amelia Barili.
  7. ^ "James Irby, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Princeton University".
  8. ^ "Minatures of a Giant". Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  9. ^ "Book of a lifetime: Ficciones, By Jorge Luis Borges". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  10. ^ Manguel, Alberto (1999-01-03). "The world, by Jorge". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  11. ^ "James Irby, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Princeton University".
  12. ^ "Donald A. Yates, Guggenheim Fellow".

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