Study Guide

The Secret Miracle

By Jorge Luis Borges

The Secret Miracle Introduction

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.

What is The Secret Miracle About and Why Should I Care?

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.

The Secret Miracle Resources

Websites

All Things Borges
Here, you'll find an astounding collection of information about and inspired by the work of Jorge Luis Borges. This is definitely one of the best Borges sites on the web. Click away and dive in.

Books Borges Never Wrote
Check out this imaginative virtual bookshelf of all the texts that Borges famously didn't write. Look closely: you can find Jaromir Hladik's A Vindication of Eternity here. Pretty cool.

The Basics
The Poetry Foundation gives us an excellent biography of Jorge Luis Borges, as well as a summary and interpretation of some of his major works and themes. Check it out and you'll see that "The Secret Miracle" fits right into his style.

Movie or TV Productions

As insanely interesting as Borges' short stories are, many of them have yet to be translated to film or television. Is it just too daunting to capture Borges' abstract ideas on film? What do you think? Can you think of a way to write the screenplay for "The Secret Miracle"?
As insanely interesting as Borges' short stories are, many of them have yet to be translated to film or television. Is it just too daunting to capture Borges' abstract ideas on film? What do you think? Can you think of a way to write the screenplay for "The Secret Miracle"?

Articles and Interviews

Happy Birthday, Borges
In commemoration of what would have been Borges's 112th birthday on August 24th, 2011, Google's daily doodle showed the author standing in a fantastic library. Way to recognize the greats, Google.

An Interview with the Man
In this 1971 New York Times interview, Borges explains that being a widely beloved intellectual means – among other things – that you don't have to pay cab fare. (Shmoop still pays, but we're working on it.)

Borges, a Jew?
Though he wasn't Jewish, Borges famously wrote an essay titled, "Yo, Judío" ("I, a Jew") in response to Argentine anti-Semitism in the 1930s. In this article, Jewish writer Daniel Schifrin reflects on Borges' complicated relationship to Judaism.

Video

The Mirror Man
Check out this 2007 documentary about Jorge Luis Borges, narrated by a lady with a fancy-sounding accent.

A Tour of Prague
This video shows some of the main sites in Prague, including a couple that are mentioned in Borges' story. The "Celetná," or Royal Road, is another name for the "Zeltnergasse," the road on which Jaromir Hladik lives. So either watch this, or hop on a plane.

Live and in Person
First, learn Spanish. Then, check out this interview with the dude.

Audio

Borges Does Tango
Borges wasn't just an essayist: he was also, evidently, a lyricist. In the 1960s, Borges collaborated with legendary tango composer Astor Piazzolla to create a series of tangos. Their work was rerecorded and released as an album in 1994.

Images

Baby Borges
This is when our guy was three years old. Do you think he was already pontificating on the meaning of time?

Classic Borges
Our author, as most people know him.

Map of Prague
Check out the lay of the land.