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Joseph Benatov


There are three occasions in Borges, where he thinks of Bulgaria. Two are fairly known, the third not so. All three are literary occasions, yet, different.

‘The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero’ appears to be a standard Irish nationalistic short story. One Kilpatrick, in order to fulfil his family potential or fate, is murdered. However, before unfolding the plot, Borges is tempted for a moment to place the action in a ‘Balkan country’, naturally having Bulgaria in mind. The pins and needles are ever sweeter, because of the endless possibilities behind the hinted idea.

25 years later in ‘The Other’ Borges meets a young lad, also Borges, and tries to convince him that the two are actually one and the same man. And he points at evidence, quoting the books leaning to the left on the shelf in the lad’s apartment in Geneva. There, along with the unquestionably Borgesian readings like Carlyle and Cervantes hides a small humble paperback. And in it the sexual customs of the Balkans are described. The seventeen-year old visibly blushes, because he cannot imagine that someone else knows about his seclusion with the charming Bulgarian woman from page 24.

In 1936 Borges and Bioy Casares accept one not so literary commission. Bioy’s uncle offers them 16 pesos a page if they write a scientifically sounding text about the goodness of yogurt. The co-authors begin to research in some many-volume reference books, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica. After 6 days they are ready with passable brochure, in which the role of Lactobacillus bulgaricus cannot be avoided. Borges discovered some more or less apocryphal writings about the aphrodisiac qualities of the sheep-milk yogurt; he remembered the paperback about the Balkan’s sexual customs and the beautiful Bulgarian gal, but decided to include nothing of the sort in the brochure. Soon after this pseudo-scientific effort Borges and Bioy again search encyclopedias, but this time they are after some lost third world.

And for the last Borges’s woman, a Japanese, it is said that she breakfasted with a bowl of yogurt every morning.



© Joseph Benatov
© Veselin Veselinov, translated
© E-magazine LiterNet, 01.08.2005, № 8 (69)