Thursday, March 20, 2008

"The Gospel According to Mark" by Jorge Luis Borges

Source: New Yorker Fiction Podcast
Length: 22 minutes
Reader: Paul Theroux

The story: In this short story, Espinosa, an Argentine man, leaves his intellectual life in the city to visit a cousin's ranch. When the cousin leaves for a business trip, the man is left alone with the ranch foreman and his family, the Gutres. A flood cuts off the ranch from the outside world, and left alone, Espinosa passes the time by reading to the Gutres from the Gospel of St. Mark, which they had never heard before. The Gutres understanding of the story of Jesus's life is quite different from what would be expected.

The story is startling in its impact. It's a difficult story to grapple with, especially without giving away any spoilers. I believe Borges is contrasting the simple agrarian lifestyle of his countrymen with the intellectualism of his readers. The focal point for this contrast is the most well-known, heavily analyzed, and retold story in all of Western Culture: the story of Jesus, but in its earliest and simplest written form: the gospel of Mark. Espinosa sees St. Mark's story through both the religious viewpoint of his pious mother and the humanist viewpoint of his atheist father. Paradoxically, with all his intellectual tools for examining the story, he thinks very little about the meaning of Jesus's life as he tells it to the Gutres. On the other hand, the Gutres think deeply about the Bible story and arrive at a surprising conclusion.

Rating: 9/10

The Reader: Paul Theroux is an accomplished writer, but it does not always follow that good writers are good readers. Fortunately, in this case, Theroux delivers a wonderful performance of this piece which he so enthusiastically adores. He varies his pitch, enunciates clearly, and matches the speed of his reading to the action. The recording is part of the New Yorker podcast, in which a current author picks a story from the New Yorker archives, then introduces the story, reads it and discusses the story and author with the New Yorker's fiction editor. I found the discussion to be nearly as entertaining as the story, with Theroux's anecdote about reading to the elderly, blind Borges making the reader feel like he is sharing an experience of listening to a story in common with Borges.

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