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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
The Obscene Bird of Night (Verba Mundi) (Verba Mundi (Paperback))
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on June 28, 2010
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.
7 people found this helpful
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on October 13, 2008
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.
10 people found this helpful
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on March 3, 2017
Difficult story, multiple plane of sadistic existance
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on September 17, 2006
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.
41 people found this helpful
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on May 3, 2016
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on January 13, 2014
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 of south american fiction ... but well ... WELL ... WELL WORTH IT!!!
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on December 26, 2012
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
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on January 29, 2009
This masterpiece by the late Chilean author José Donoso centers around the Azcoitías, a family of Chilean aristocrats. However, the main character, Humberto Peñaloza, is an assistant to Don Jerónimo, the last male heir of this family, who is at times a deaf-mute, a nun, and the doll for an teenaged orphan in a convent who is having a miraculous pregnancy -- or not.

The wife of the heir, Inés, cannot become pregnant, and there is great concern that the Azcoitía clan may fade into obscurity. Inés seeks assistance from Peta Ponce, the old woman who saved her life when she was a young child. Peta Ponce, who is feared to be a witch by Don Jerónimo, encourages Inés to lure Don Jerónimo to her own dark, dilapidated shack, and make love to him there. However, Humberto Peñaloza is also drawn to the shack at the same time, presumably by Peta Ponce's powers, as she is attracted to Humberto, and each man makes love to who he believes is Inés, although none of the characters, and certainly not the reader, is sure who makes loves to whom. In any case, Inés becomes pregnant, but gives birth to a monstrous child, called Boy.

Don Jerónimo decides that Boy should view himself as normal, and he builds a fortress for Boy to live in, and Humberto is given the task of rounding up the most dysmorphic freaks that can be found in the countryside, who become Boy's servants and companions.

Inés separates from Don Jerónimo, travels throughout Europe, has a nervous breakdown, and, upon her return to town, decides to take up residence in the Casa de Ejercicios Espirituales de la Encarnación, the church/orphanage/old widows' home that is owned by the Azcoitía family, but it becomes hers.

After Don Jerónimo "discovers" that Humberto has impregnated his wife during that fateful night and that he, in making love to Peta Ponce, has lost his manhood, Humberto is operated on by a doctor who is one of the freaks. He is transformed into a dysmorphic deaf-mute, and banished to the Casa de Ejercicios Espirituales de la Encarnación.

The story only becomes more surreal from there!

It wasn't until I had completed about 1/3 of the book until I had a clue as to what was going on, probably because I wasn't giving the book the attention it deserved. However, once it came together for me, it was absolutely captivating.
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on 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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on June 28, 2000
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. el autor se enfrenta con la decadencia frente a frente y nos da este cuadro de horror. y esa trama tan bien hecha, esos planes de nuestro querido narrador humberto penaloza, alias el mudito, que nos lleva por la novela por caminos que no sabemos cuando terminan sus suenos y cuando empieza su realidad. el plan de la educacion de boy, su aljamiento del mundo, fantasia, realidad? la vejes, vista como decadencia y como fuerza a la vez, fuerza por las cosas que se saben al traves de los anos, las verguenzas que se tapan, los secretos que se esconden, fuerza para ser el patron de tus patrones, para manipularlos con tu humildad.... y ese nino que va a nacer, debe de ser nuestro, estar al servicio de la decadencia, ser nuestro imbunche, depender de nosotros, estar cosido,no caminar ni hablar, que todo dependa de nosotras, las viejas y ahora que soy una de ellas, ya deje de ser luis mendez el que escribe para ser una de ellas de las viejas que comparten el secreto de la iris mateluna, de la guagua milagrosa que va a nacer y de la que yo tambien sere parte y cuidadora porque quiero ir al cielo cuando se vaya y que me lleve con el y me saque de este martirio de tener que observar a jeronimo y ser su lacayo, estar a su servicio. dejare de ser una presencia sobre la que los ojos resbalan para ser una vieja. bueno al menos se que sere alguien y no como mi padre un ser simple admirando la belleza desde lejos, yo estare del otro lado de las cosas bellas, pero no en la mediocridad de sus ojos melancolicos que me miran y miran las vitrinas de lo que no puede comprar y de lo que jamas podra ser.... humberto penaloza.
9 people found this helpful
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