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The Obscene Bird of Night (Verba Mundi) [Paperback]

by Jose Donoso
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 1, 1995 1567920462 978-1567920468 1st Verba Mundi Ed
This haunting jungle of a novel has been hailed as "a masterpiece" by Luis Bunuel and "one of the great novels not only of Spanish America, but of our time" by Carlos Fuentes. The story of the last member of the aristocratic Azcoitia family, a monstrous mutation protected from the knowledge of his deformity by being surrounded with other freaks as companions, The Obscene Bird of Night is a triumph of imaginative, visionary writing. Its luxuriance, fecundity, horror, and energy will not soon fade from the reader's mind. (Verba Mundi)

Frequently Bought Together

The Obscene Bird of Night (Verba Mundi) + The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories (Penguin Classics) + The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics)
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Editorial Reviews


The story is like a great puzzle . . . invested with a vibrant, almost tangible reality. --The New York Times

Language Notes

Text: English, Spanish (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Verba Mundi
  • Paperback: 438 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine; 1st Verba Mundi Ed edition (December 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567920462
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567920468
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #415,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The deformed prism October 8, 2003
The mutations of characters, the non-linear style in which this story is told, the repetitions, shifts in perspective add to make this work a remarkable book. Without a doubt not only one of the finest magical realist works I've ever stumbled upon, but one of the finest novels I have ever read.
As the work has multiple foundations, one of the major ones about Humberto Penaloza, who as a child & adolescent was always told by his father that he must become something, it doesn't matter what, as long as Humberto doesn't go through the same social obscurity that he endures. Later on, he becomes the assistant to Jeronimo, a wealthy politician who is trying to lengthen the family tree. His wife, Ines de Azcoitia is unable to bear him children. Then through either an act of black magic, or Humberto's intimacy Jeronimo is given his child. The child, simply called Boy, is horribly deformed. Jeronimo decides to build the child it's own world, entirely secluded from anything outside of it and surrounded by other people with monstrosities. Humberto is put in charge, and becomes the abnormal one in this newly formed world where deformities is not the exception but the rule. Humberto's abnormality is his plain everyman look, social obscurity. He ends his days in a former catholic church, now peopled by elderly women, either nuns or former servants waiting to die.
This book works on so many different levels & they're always communicating to one another, effortlessly the past becomes the present, it is a hallucinatory poetic parade of the grotesque and the beautfiul, of the grotesque as the beautiful. It is also a commentary on domination in its many forms- husband & wife, father & son, the elderly & the young, master & servant. Sometimes the dominant position is usurped & the roles are reversed.
It's no wonder that both Carlos Fuentes & Luis Bunuel considered it to be a masterpiece.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The darker side of magic realism. September 17, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I would not know where to begin to try to summarize this book. There are several story arcs, and several narrative voices which are actually all one voice-- different guises of Humberto Peñaloza. He is an unborn fetus (miracle baby), a frustrated nun, an improbable mute, and the secretary to a rich man who may or may not have fathered the rich man's deformed baby.

The Obscene Bird of Night is justly considered one of the best books in Chilean literature. Richly and skilfully written, its myth and metaphor wraps around itself to be moving, horrifying, mystifying and satisfying.

This is a book that needs some time. It is very far from an easy read. If I have not given it five stars, it is not a comment on the genius of the book. Rather, it is simply that it is more grotesque than I really have the stomach to enjoy in an unqualified way. I admire it immensely, and recommend it unhesitatingly.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastical May 21, 2004
By ned
This novel is the most weird and fantastical novel I have ever read. This, of course, means it is one of the best. The plot is surreal, the words are deep and rich, and it is so original, so beautiful and so brave, that any reader if affected by it.
When reading, you are plunged into such a different world that the images created encase you, lock you into the plot.
This novel, is a step into the mist for anyone who has only stuck to the odd thriller. It is a opening to wider horizons - that of magic realism.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truely hypnotic story into magical realism May 22, 1999
By A Customer
This book is a true masterpiece into hallucinatory writing. Donoso captures the essence of classical latin american magical realism while flickering between narratives and schizophrenia. A truely touching novel, full of life, imagery, love and disgust. A masterpiece.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Garcia Marquez...on meth October 13, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If Latin America is known for "magical realism" and it is, although that is perhaps a myth along the lines of international boundaries, then this is the nightmare version. Its like the movie Eraserhead if you've seen that, or Naked Lunch or 2001: A Space Odyssey. You're given cool images and happenings and they don't need to always mean anything or be real; here there are layers of the same events; told over and over, a girl, a witch, a witch and a girl, which is she? Both, neither, who knows. Its troubled, its dark, its twisted, its twisting, its disorienting, its sometimes too much- urine for 2 straight pages is a little too descriptive, its also very unique and its a tangle that's worth the trouble. The book is as mangled as Boy, and don't try to cling to one version as reality, let them all be, take them all in, its a ride, like a roller coaster. It can be fun, scary, and nauseating, if you let it, or it can be painful, scary, and nauseating, if you want.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Yellow Dog June 28, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At the start of this book I was deeply concerned that I wouldn't be a fan, by the end I was glued to the pages. Personally there were some portions of this work of surrealist fiction that didn't jive, but leaving that aside it is a fantastic piece of literature.

There is a massive vision to the book that cannot be overlooked, from the virgin birth to the old woman seeking the finger of the saint, the voyeurism, the painful and obvious exploitation of everyone involved, and the little packages that old women keep under their beds. This isn't a single read novel, and I think that it deserves a second full digestion to make full impact.

The translation is fabulous, and the characters are unforgettable. It is without doubt a tale that needs to be told, and one that encompasses so many lives and dreams that you are left wondering which is reality.

It is very diffult to even outline the plot for those who might be interested because this book is truly a spiders web with the main character of Humberto Penaloza at the center. Yet, when you look back on the story you begin to wonder if it isn't someone else who was truly the middle of this magical and mysterious work after all.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent but not all he way there ...
I read this book and enjoyed it immensely ... it is sad and touching but when the story starts hitting you it is something you may find a bit too often if you read a large amount... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Echezona Udeze
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable !
I rated this a 4 because I greatly enjoyed the flowing narration like a puzzle
I am not good at reviews but I would and will read other books by the author
Published 16 months ago by mark bryngelson
3.0 out of 5 stars Hmmm....
Point of fact: It is not humanly possible to figure out what exactly is happening in the Obscene Bird of Night (OBN). Read more
Published on November 9, 2011 by ivona poyntz
4.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of surrealism and magical realism
This masterpiece by the late Chilean author José Donoso centers around the Azcoitías, a family of Chilean aristocrats. Read more
Published on January 29, 2009 by Darryl R. Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Plain Excellent
I will make this short and I'm not going to summarize the book. This was a wonderful book to read. The imagery is fantastic. The writing and depth of story is awesome. Read more
Published on June 13, 2008 by Joseph L. Briones
5.0 out of 5 stars multidimensional apnea
I have a really hard time finding fitting words for describing this work. I will, perhaps in the manner of the author and the formal lines the story follows, will make the... Read more
Published on December 28, 2006 by Jehu Hernandez Navarrete
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond times
This is one of the best latinamerican books, further than magic realismus (realismo mágico) this novel traspasses all the borders beyond time, gender, reality and absurd. Read more
Published on September 11, 2005 by Sandra Peredo Rivera
5.0 out of 5 stars a horror tale
la vida vista desde las tinieblas de una mente retorcida, de una casa en decadencia, de una muerte que se retrasa y no llega y que es liberacion de podredumbre de la carne. Read more
Published on June 28, 2000 by Luis Méndez
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