So as we draw into the terminus, arriving at the end of our allotted dozen, the reader may feel comforted by the appearance of such a familiar story (like a landmark that welcomes us home, much as a glimpse of the Etihad often tells me I am nearly back in Manchester Piccadilly), or delighted by the possibility of something as yet unknown (the thrill of arriving in a city we will now discover!). Much has been written about (and many inspired by) this story, and while yes of courseit is all about labyrinths, endless recursion, the infinite, books fake or otherwise, fate, destiny, and time, what many have missed is that this story in fact entirely hinges upon a train: the one in which Yu Tsun narrowly misses Captain Richard Madden on his way to his fateful encounter with Sinologist Stephen Albert. As Ricardo Piglia has noted in his Theses on the Short Story, ‘a short story always tells two stories’ and the ‘visible story hides a secret tale, narrated in an elliptical and fragmentary manner.’ The train, buried in the midst of this abyme, is surely the ‘secret truth’ and key to both the garden of forking paths, and ‘The Garden of Forking Paths.’ And, as I hope I have demonstrated by now, the short story as a whole.
First published in English in Fictions, 1962. Read it online here