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The Obscene Bird of Night (Verba Mundi) (Verba Mundi (Paperback)) Paperback – December 1, 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

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

Although many of the other "boom" writers may have received more attention especially Fuentes and Vargas Llosa Donoso and his masterpiece may be the most lasting, visionary, strangest of the books from this time period. Seriously, it's a novel about the last member of an aristocratic family, a monstrous mutant, who is surrounded by other freaks so as to not feel out of place. --Publishers Weekly

Language Notes

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

  • Series: Verba Mundi (Paperback)
  • 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: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Scott M. Eaton on October 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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Format: Paperback
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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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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