Leafing through the volume, his fingers opened it at the beginning of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. As an exercise in translation, and maybe to find out whether the Gutres understood any of it, Espinosa decided to begin reading them that text after their evening meal. It surprised him that they listened attentively, absorbed. Maybe the gold letters on the cover lent the book authority. It’s still there in their blood, Espinosa thought. It also occurred to him that the generations of men, throughout recorded time, have always told and retold two stories — that of a lost ship which searches the Mediterranean seas for a dearly loved island, and that of a god who is crucified on Golgotha. Remembering his lessons in elocution from his schooldays in Ramos Mejia, Espinosa got to his feet when he came to the parables.
– from “The Gospel According to Mark” by Jorge Luis Borges.
I missed this story when I was absorbing all the Borges stories I could, so it was a pleasant surprise when I did finally discover it. It both reads like a Borges story and not a Borges story, and a lot of the latter having to do with how straight forward it reads, working its way to its chilling climax.
There’s a certain Roald Dahl quality to this story that I love. The way all the clues are right there in front of you – practically screaming at you – and yet, the ending still takes you by surprise.
I once played a recording of “The Gospel of According to Mark” to a class, and when the ending came, two of the students gasped aloud. It’s that kind of reaction that writers shoot for, and Borges absolutely nails it with this one.