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Joseph Benatov


Three are the moments in Borges where he thinks of Bulgaria. Two are well known, the third one less so. All three are literary but in different ways.

“The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero” turns out to be a standard Irish nationalist story. A man, Kilpatrick, in order to realize his family name potential, is murdered. Before presenting us with this story line, though, Borges is momentarily tempted to set the action in some “Balkan state,” naturally having in mind Bulgaria. The thrill here is even more voluptuous due to the boundless possibilities of this unrealized intent.

About 25 years later, the now-elderly Borges meets in “The Other” a young man, also Borges, whom he tries to convince that the two are one and the same man. And to prove it he names all the books tilted to the left on the bookcase in the young man’s Geneva apartment. There, in addition to the obligatory Borges readings such as Carlyle and Cervantes, hides a slim tiny paperbound volume. A volume detailing the sexual customs of the Balkans. The seventeen-year-old lad visibly blushes because he cannot imagine that someone else knows about his seclusions with the gorgeous Bulgarian woman from page twenty-four.

In 1936 Borges and Bioy Casares take up a not so very literary commission. Bioy’s uncle offers them 16 pesos per page for the composition of a scientifically sounding text about the wonders of yogurt. The two coauthors start digging through various multivolume reference works of Britannica’s ilk. And in six days they come up with a rather passable monograph which naturally cannot help but mention the role of the Bulgarian lactobacillus. Borges also comes across some more apocryphal accounts of the aphrodisiac qualities of sheep yogurt, he remembers the Balkan sexual volume with the pretty Bulgarian woman, but he decides not to include anything of the sort in the brochure. Soon after this pseudoscientific collaboration, Borges and Bioy rummage in encyclopedias again, but this time they are after some lost third world.

Rumor has it that Borges’s last wife, a Japanese woman, would have a bowl of yogurt for breakfast each morning.



© Joseph Benatov
© Joseph Benatov, translated
© E-magazine LiterNet, 01.11.2005, № 11 (71)