Michael Dirda concedes that Edwin Williamson’s new biography of Jorge Luis Borges is engrossing, but wishes the book had focused more on “the gestation of [the author’s] classic stories” and less on his “imagined psychology”:
It doesn’t take long . . . for a reader of these pages to conclude that Latin America’s most important 20th-century writer was essentially a wimp, probably impotent, certainly indecisive and weak-willed, thoroughly self-pitying, surprisingly vindictive and often cowardly (lacking the courage to tell the first woman he married that he was leaving her, he flew to another country while she was being served the divorce papers). Consider this, too: In many cultures, grown children often remain in their natal home, but Borges was still living with his mother in a small apartment well into his sixties. Once, at dinner, a Yale scholar overheard a maid ask if the famous writer would like some wine, only to be amazed by his formidable mother answering, “The boy won’t have any wine.”
Borges once wrote that “All literature is autobiographical, in the last instance.” For Edwin Williamson, however, it is autobiographical in the first instance too. He reads Borges’ poetry and fiction as sublimations of the Argentine’s erotic daydreams and disappointments . . .