Your Weekly Dose of Spanish by Spaniology: Semana 6

Published in Dungarvan Leader Page 16 on Tuesday 31st of August 2021


Last week it was the anniversary of the birth of one of the most prominent literary figures in Spanish of the past century: the Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), widely known for his dreamy short stories.

A writer of incredible talent and erudition, his writing took many forms including poetry, essay, novel, literary criticism, theatre and translation. His vast linguistic capabilities, comprising Spanish, English —he was of Spanish and English descent—, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Latin allowed him to amass a plethora of knowledge in multiple areas, from philosophy to theology and History.

Displaying a precociousness that heralded greater things to come, he translated Oscar Wilde into Spanish at the age of nine, becoming later an avid scholar of the Bible, the Quran and the Kabbalah. He was also notably influenced by the idealism of the Irish philosopher George Berkeley.

Although he never received the Nobel Prize in literature —considered by many to be one of the greatest injustices in the history of the award and motivated solely by political reasons— he was internationally recognised and was granted many other accolades, including the Formentor Prize, shared with the Irish author Samuel Beckett in 1961.

He is credited with the development of realismo mágico (magical realism) in Latin-America, a literary genre which challenges the reader's perceptions of fantasy and reality. His oneiric short stories are the quintessential example of this style, and I would recommend readers to tap into books like Ficciones (1944) or El Aleph (1949) for a sample of his mind-bending prose.

In Ficciones we can find a curious short story entitled La forma de la espada (The shape of the sword) wherein the narrator speaks with a newly-arrived immigrant in Uruguay. The newcomer, believed by all to be an Englishman, displays a rather introvert and laconic behaviour until the narrator decides to break the ice with him:

"...procuré congraciarme con el Inglés; acudí a la menos perspicaz de las pasiones: el patriotismo. Dije que era invencible un país con el espíritu de Inglaterra. Mi interlocutor asintió, pero agregó con una sonrisa que él no era inglés. Era irlandés, de Dungarvan. Dicho esto se detuvo, como si hubiera revelado un secreto."

[... I tried to win the Englishman over; I resorted to the least perspicacious of passions: patriotism. I told him that a country with the spirit of England was invincible. My interlocutor nodded, but added with a smile that he was not English. He was Irish, from Dungarvan. Having said this he stopped, as though he had revealed a secret.]

Thereafter, and over a couple of tipples, the immigrant relates his story, set against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War. And I shall leave it here so as not to spoil the end for those readers who are curious about the life story of this Dungarvaner who somehow slipped into the realismo mágico of Borges.

* Here is your weekly dose of Spanish: Irlanda era una amarga y cariñosa mitología, era las torres circulares y las enormes epopeyas que cantan el robo de toros [Ireland was a bitter and lovely mythology, she was the round towers and the enormous epics which sing the theft of bulls] (from the aforementioned story)

Sergio Fernández Redondo

Sergio hails from Asturias in northern Spain and has recently relocated to Dungarvan, where he is a Spanish teacher and PR assistant at Spaniology. Having an eclectic background in engineering, translation and linguistics, he is also a keen aficionado of history and languages.


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