Maria Kodama, the widow of Borges

kodama.jpgMarí­a Kodama is a well-known figure among porteños but those not familiar with the life of Jorge Luis Borges, who died in 1986 at the age of 86, may be surprised to know that his widow is still very much alive.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking down calle Florida and just about to enter Galerí­as Pacifico when a woman passed me on the way out. I immediately recognized her as being María Kodama, or so I thought, since she has a very distinctive appearance. I hardly ever recognize anyone famous, always thinking that it’s someone else. I did wonder if there were other older porteña women who have adopted the distinctive Kodama hairstyle and if this was just a “look-alike”.

But, later as I was browsing in Galerías Pacifico, I saw her again. I guess she had decided to come back inside for more shopping. Actually, she appeared to be just window shopping, slowly moving among the stores. Not that I was stalking her or anything. I just kept on wondering if it was her or not. Guess I could have just approached her and asked, but I didn’t. However, after seeing the photos of her on the net, I’m positive that it was María Kodama.

María and Borges

Okay, now for those of you who have fallen behind on your biographical reading of Borges:

The daughter of a Japanese father, Marí­a Kodama is forty-five years younger than Borges. She was a student of his at the University of Buenos Aires during the 1960s and then joined a weekly class on Anglo-Saxon literature that Borges gave at the Biblioteca Nacional. Borges was blind by this point in his life and never saw Kodama with his own eyes. Yet, he became infatuated with her.

Borges, who lived most of his life as a bachelor and shared an apartment with his mother, became easily infatuated with women.

When his mother realized that her own health was failing, she arranged a marriage for her sixty-seven year old blind son, which turned out to be a disaster.

During this time, Borges was finally achieving the international fame that he had long sought. His friendship with the young María Kodama grew stronger and she eventually became his literary secretary and traveling companion on his many speaking trips abroad during the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1985, a year before his death, Borges and Kodama finally were married with a Paraguayan marriage license, which was the common way to get around the lack of divorce in Argentine law. Borges had already named Kodama as the sole heir to his estate. Obviously one can imagine the controversy at the time about an elderly, blind, famous man marrying a woman 45 years younger. But, it seems that the estate has been well managed over the years.

19 comments on “Maria Kodama, the widow of Borges

  1. Ken on

    What a coinsidence . . . I just encountered her for the first time yesterday while watching a documentary about Borges. I arrive in BsAs in 23 days. I was told by an educated Argentine neighbor here in Maryland, USA that I had better know something of Borges before enterine Argentina.

    Cool coincidence, saw that yesterday–visited your blog for the first time today.

    Just thought I’d let you know.

  2. Jeff on

    Ken – thanks for your comment. Yes, it’s good to know something about Borges before arriving in Buenos Aires. Hope that you have a good visit here!

  3. Surajit Choudhury on

    It shouldn’t be a surprise to keep running Ms. Kodama at Galerías Pacifico – that’s where the Borges Cultural Center is located.

  4. Jeff on

    True, but I’ve never really seen much about Borges at the Centro Cultural Borges. But, maybe she is involved with it in some manner.

  5. Ricky on

    If Kodama was prowling around Centro Cultural Borges might have been to check if they are using anything about Borges that she could charge royalties. That woman is the worst thing that could happen to Borges. She claims she is the heiress of Borges but she was only a little more than a nurse to take care of an old man. This days she is in a terrible dispute with the famous French publisher house Gallimard, whose owner -together with Borges himself- had compiled all of Borges’ books to be published in France, many years ago. There are also some conversations recorded on tape which the two had already decided to make public. But the japanese widow claims that all that can not be done… before SHE dies!!!!! What does she have to do with it all???? She means nothing in the work of Borges!!!!!

  6. Jeff on

    Ricky – thanks for your comment, but I can’t agree with you. Since I’ve not personally met Maria Kodama, I can’t comment on her business tactics. But in the most recent biography of Borges she is described as much more important to him than simply as a nurse. Several poems from Borges later period refer to Kodama indirectly, so it seems that she actually meant quite a lot to him. It’s clear that Borges chose her specifically to serve as the executor of his estate, which is the role that she is performing.

    Of course, Gallimard stands to lose a lot of money by not re-publishing these works. Kodama has indicated that an earlier publication by Gallimard had many errors.

    But it’s not like these works by Borges are not available to the world. They’re just not being permitted to be re-published by Gallimard.

    Ultimately, the issue is about author rights after the death of the author. While I strongly believe in open access, I also believe in author rights. I don’t think that rights should be extended for perpetuity but 20 years after the author’s death is still well within the copyright laws of most countries. The year 2056 is when the rights expire for the works of Borges. I think 70 years is too long, 50 years seem more appropriate, but 20 years is certainly legit.

    As for the tape recordings, those were made in the months just prior to the death of Borges and while he was very ill. There may be some fascinating bits of information on those tapes. Or, perhaps, they’re just the ramblings of an old man. I think those tapes should be available so that researchers can decide whether the tapes are useful or not. But, also I understand why an estate administrator might be tempted to restrict access to that material. Her job is to protect the estate even when that may bring her into conflict with others.

  7. lucius drake on

    Hey I would like to see some pictures of where Borges and Maria Kodama lived during the 60s and 70s. It is the sort of tourist thing I would go and see if I was travelling. Does anyone know where they lived? can anyone send me pictures of that part of Burnes Aires?

  8. ED on

    Hey, if Borges himself co-edited the work (gallimard edition)why she want to restrict public access to that material?

    the firt right of an author – moerover after his death – is to be known and spread his work for the people!

  9. Marina on

    Hey, i’m finishing my post graduation course and it’s about Borges. Next july i’m travelling to Buenos Aires and i’d like to meet Maria Kodama, in order to ask her some questions and take some pictures for my research.
    Does anyone know wether she still lives there? I’d like to collect as much information as i can.

  10. jorge on

    borges is one of my favourite writers.i have all of his works,named in portuguese”obras completas”by teorema his writings maria kodama is not spoken openely,but i am sure she is related in such diferent ways in most of his great poems,fictions and some writings. -“the spirit only matters”

  11. Carluty Ferreira on

    Eu sou Brasileiro, ator e sou de uma Cia. de Teatro estamos em pesquisa sobre a obra de Jorge Luiz Borges para encenar uma adaptação do Livro dos Sonhos precisamos urgentemente da autorização da Sra. Maria Kodama para nos liberar para realizarmos a montagem “sonhos”. A Cia. não tem recurso para pagar verba fixa e vem solicitar a liberação 12% de bilheteria para esta montagem, aguardamos contaro. 31-3222-3130

  12. Carluty Ferreira on

    Ilma.Sra. Maria Kodama Boa noite! Bom dia!! necessitamos hablar con la Senhora urgentemente. Please, nosotros teniemos mucho necessidade de falar com a snhora. Estamos precisando de contato de vossa senhoria urgente please ligar para la Cia. teatrale Produz Ação Cênica em Brasil nostro telephone 55-31 -3222-3130 jo soy Carluty e tengo mucho ansiedade para hablar contigo pues necessito de tua autorizacion para realizarmos una montagem teatral adaptda del libro de sueno de tu esposo JOrge Luis Borges Gracias e estoy aguardando teu contato. Até breve. Carluty Ferreira

  13. Bruce Howard Hamilton on

    I had the great good luck of meeting ‘the master’ (Borges) in the mid-1970?s, at Michigan State University. He then was under ‘the protection’ of Mr. Donald Yates, who co-edited LABYRINTHS (as I now ‘recall’). I also, at that very set of moments, met the to me very, very adorable Maria Kodama. What a woman she was, I daresay! Borges and I chatted, mostly in English, for about an hour and a half — in three approximately half-hour sessions. I felt QUITE awestruck! My brother then was attending the Michigan State Medical School, and he briefly had the honor of encountering Mr. Borges. Anyway: I’ve been enjoying your Blog very much. Borges was very kind toward me. I may have been in my late twenties (or early thirties) back then and was rather ‘flippant’ toward all too many people >>> as I still tend to be! Maria also was quite wonderful toward me, and I fear that she eventually felt somewhat beyond slightly bothered and intimidated by my ‘ways.’ Thank you very much! Thanks further.

  14. Jeff on

    Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for your wonderful comment. It’s exciting to read your personal experience with Borges. That certainly is a memory to last a lifetime.