Garden of Forking Paths

By Jorge Luis Borges

The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges is a deposition given by Dr. Yu Tsun about why an attack against the Serre-Mountauban line by thirteen British divisions which was planned for 24th July 1916 was postponed until the morning of 29th. Dr Yu Tsun sheds some light over this unexpected affair. The first two pages of the document are missing and hence the document starts on a very abrupt note.

Yu Tsun has discovered that his cover as a German Spy in London has been blown. Deducing after a phone call that his co-conspirator in espionage Runeberg has either been arrested or murdered by Richard Madden it dawned upon him that Madden would come looking for him next. He fell on his bed contemplating his next move. He contrasts between his childhood privileges and his current situation. His retrospect into his childhood days reminded him of being fortunate enough of standing in the symmetric garden of Hai Feng as a child and the unfortunate even of his father’s death. On this day without any premonitions or symbols he wondered if it was going to be the day he died. He was to act fast. He had to find a way to complete his mission by transmitting the location of a secret cache of British weapons to his boss in Germany. He searches his pocket to find a number of things. Luis Borges describes the contents of his pocket in great detail to be thorough in his thought process. He mentions-“ American watch, the nickel-plated chain and the square coin, the key ring with the useless but compromising keys to Runeberg’s office, the notebook, a letter which I decided to destroy at once (and which I did not destroy), a five shilling piece, two single shillings and some pennies, a red and blue pencil, a handkerchief — and a revolver with a single bullet.” After having found the address of the person who would be able to pass on the message to his boss, he hurries up to catch a train to the suburbs.

Madden misses Yu Tsun by a hairs breadth when he misses the train giving Tsun some innate sense of confidence of having completed half the task and some positivity that he will be able to accomplish his responsibility. At his stop some weird looking children show him the directions to the home of Dr. Stephan Albert. Following the children’s instructions he walks along the forking road. He finally arrives at the house and is surprised to hear familiar Chinese music.

Stephen Albert welcomes Yu Tsun, speaking Chinese, and invites him inside. He shows him the “garden of forking paths.” after which Tsun reveals himself as being a prt of the lineage of the creator of that same garden. Dr. Albert tells Tsun the story of his forefather, Ts’ui Pen, a former governor who had forsaken his political position to write a novel and build a labyrinth-a maze.

In the opinion of his descendants, Ts’ui Pen had failed on both accounts — it was believed that the novel made no chronological sense, and the labyrinth was never found.

Stephen Albert, who had studied Ts’ui Pen’s heritage for a long, explained to Yu Tsun that “the garden of forking paths” and the novel are very much the same thing and that the novel’s seemingly incompatible storylines puts forward the idea of division, or splitting, of time, rather than space. In other words, whenever the characters come to a point at which more than one outcome is possible, both outcomes occur. This causes the narrative to branch out into multiple narrative universes, which then provide the scenarios for new bifurcations.

Seeing Captain Madden approach, Yu Tsun thanks to Dr. Albert for figuring out the mystery of Ts’ui Pen’s garden and then shoots him in the back. In spite of the fact that Madden succeeds in arresting Yu Tsun, Tsun had succeeded in communicating his message — the secret weapons stash is in the city of Albert. Tsun read about the bombing of Albert by the Germans in the British papers, the same papers in which The Chief was able to read the report of the murder of Dr. Albert by Yu Tsun.

This story presents an abstract concept of time and space. The fact that one incident can happen multiple number of times and can happen differently each time is a unique concept and difficult to process at first. He has compared this never ending cycle of multiple incidents multiple times to the labyrinth of forking paths.

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