Ever read a book set in a world just like ours, and then boom, all of a sudden something crazy and fantastic happens? Like people start flying or books start floating off the table? Don't panic. You're not going insane. Chances are you're just reading a work of magical realism. Basically, totally everyday normal stuff takes place right alongside weird, out-of-this-world events.
Argentine Jorge Luis Borges is a master of this style, and "The Secret Miracle" is a good place to start if you want to get your Borges on. It's chock full of surreal dream sequences, supernatural messages, and temporal manipulation – some of our author's hallmarks.
But "The Secret Miracle" isn't just a dime a dozen. While a lot of Borges's short stories take place outside of time – in alternate universes set apart from history – this one has a very specific historical context: the Nazi invasion of Prague in March 1939. But wait, there's more! Our guy's stories also tend to focus on abstract concepts like infinity and the nature of time (ooh la la), but this one also attempts to grapple with issues like anti-Semitism, the execution of Jews in World War II, and the relationship between a condemned man and his executioners. Sure, there's still a lot of abstract thought going on in this story, but it's definitely very human.
And get this: "The Secret Miracle" was published right in the middle of World War II. Borges first published this story in the Argentine literary magazine Sur in 1943, and the next year it was included in his most famous collection of short stories, Ficciones. Although Argentina maintained a neutral position throughout most of the war, many Argentines were sympathetic to the causes the Germans were fighting for, including anti-Semitism. So yeah, it was definitely a touchy subject, and Borges was not okay with it.
The respect and compassion he shows for Jaromir Hladik in "The Secret Miracle" is some pretty sturdy evidence of Borges' great admiration of Jewish culture. Hladik is compared to Franz Kafka, a brilliant Czech writer whom Borges admired a lot – and who happened to be Jewish. But our guy Borges doesn't feel the need to vilify anyone in order to make the point that Judaism is a rich and valuable culture: the Nazi soldiers are presented as being surprisingly ordinary guys who are just doing their jobs. In fact, they might not be Jaromir's real enemies at all... dun dun dun.
Time, time, time is on my side. Yes it is. Our buddy Jaromir wasn't around in the 1960s, but if he was, he definitely would have been feeling the Rolling Stones groove.
Everyone, everywhere wishes they could stop time. Of course, there are a few success stories:
But no one uses this power quite as intellectually as our protagonist, Jaromir, who takes advantage of his stopped time to, um, write a masterful piece of literature in his brain.
What would you do if you could stop time? Tough to decide, right? Well, just the fact that we've all had that fantasy makes this story well worth a read. And maybe you'll be inspired to find an answer.