IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Borges' literary estate is up in the air after widow doesn't leave will

What happens to the rights to literary giant Jorge Luis Borges' works is uncertain after his widow, Maria Kodama, didn't leave a will and the couple had no children.
Argentine Author, Jorge Luis Borges
Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges in 1977.Sophie Bassouls / Sygma via Getty Images
/ Source: Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The rights to the works of the late Jorge Luis Borges, considered Argentina’s most internationally significant author of the 20th century, have fallen into limbo because his widow died last month without a will.

The revelation this week surprised the country’s literary circles, because Borges’ wife, Maria Kodama, devoted much of her life to fiercely protecting his legacy. She set up a foundation under the writer’s name, but did not detail plans for what should happen after she died, even though she was battling breast cancer.

“If there really is no will, it’s surprising,” said Santiago Llach, a writer who is a specialist on Borges’ work. He said the announcement by Kodama’s longtime lawyer, Fernando Soto, that there was no will “generated buzz on social media and elsewhere.”

Borges died in 1986 at age 86 and left Kodama, a translator and writer whom he had married earlier that year, as his only heir. They never had children. She died March 26, also aged 86.

Jorge Luis Borges and Maria Kodama in Paris in 1977.
Jorge Luis Borges and Maria Kodama in Paris in 1977.Laurent Maous / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images file

A day after Soto made his announcement, five of Kodama’s nephews went to court Tuesday to declare themselves her heirs, seeking to get ownership to all of her possessions, including the rights to Borges’ works and what are thought to be several valuable manuscripts.

Soto said he did not know that Kodama hadn’t arranged for a will to be drawn up. “It’s amazing,” he said.

“She didn’t like to talk about those issues,” the lawyer added. “She didn’t talk about her death.”

Soto said he once asked Kodama about what would happen with Borges’ rights after her death and “she told me she had everything arranged and it would be ‘someone stricter than me.’”

Maria Kodama at the Jorge Luis Borges Foundation in Buenos Aires in 2018.
Maria Kodama at the Jorge Luis Borges Foundation in Buenos Aires in 2018.Ludovic Marin / AFP - Getty Images

He recalled that Kodama said she would call on universities in Japan and the United States to “take care of the works,” but didn’t say what schools she had in mind. Soto noted she often gave talks at both Harvard University and the University of Texas.

Borges’ widow led a life apart from her family.

“She denied the existence of her family,” Llach said. “I have writer friends who knew her nephews and asked about them and she denied their existence. It was quite striking.”

Soto said he was “surprised to find out she had nephews,” adding that “it was a big relief because I didn’t want the state to keep everything.”

According to Argentine law, if there is no will and no natural heirs, a person’s estate is taken over by the state.

Some people have raised the possibility that a Kodama will may be found once an inventory of all her possessions is carried out, but Soto said he considers that as “absolutely impossible.”

“She would have never done that, she would have never written a will on her own,” he said.

Llach said that if in fact there is no will, the question becomes whether “it was just a simple oversight, a punk gesture of ‘I don’t give a damn about all of that,’ or perhaps also a way of repairing a non-relationship with her nephews and family.”