The Obscene Bird of Night: unabridged, centennial edition (Paperback)
Newly revised and updated by Megan McDowell, and with a new introduction by Alejandro Zambra: at last, the unabridged, centennial edition of Donoso’s terrifying masterpiece sees the light of day
Deep in a maze of musty, forgotten hallways, Mudito rummages through piles of old newspapers. The mute caretaker of the crumbling former abbey, he is hounded by a coven of ancient witches who are bent on transforming him, bit by bit, into the terrifying imbunche: a twisted monster with all of its orifices sewn up, buried alive in its own body. Once, Mudito walked upright and spoke clearly; once he was the personal assistant to one of Chile’s most powerful politicians, Jerónimo de Azcoitía. Once, he ruled over a palace of monsters, built to shield Jeronimo’s deformed son from any concept of beauty. Once, he plotted with the wise woman Peta Ponce to bed Inés, Jerónimo’s wife. Mudito was Humberto, Jerónimo was strong, Inés was beautiful—once upon a time... Narrated in voices that shift and multiply, The Obscene Bird of Night frets the seams between master and slave, rich and poor, reality and nightmares, man and woman, self and other in a maniacal inquiry into the horrifying transformations that power can wreak on identity.
Now, star translator Megan McDowell has revised and updated the classic translation, restoring nearly twenty pages of previously untranslated text that was mysteriously cut from the 1972 edition. Newly complete, with missing motifs restored, plots deepened, and characters more richly shaded, Donoso’s pajarito (little bird), as he called it, returns to print to celebrate the centennial of its author’s birth in full plumage, as brilliant as it is bizarre.
About the Author
One of the great Boom writers, José Donoso (1924–1996) wrote novels, novellas, short stories, and poetry. He worked stints as a shepherd in Patagonia and a stevedore in Buenos Aires before studying at Princeton and teaching at the Iowa Writers Workshop. He was twice a Guggenheim Fellow and won the William Faulkner Foundation Prize as well as Chile’s highest literary honor, the National Literature Prize, among many other awards.
Leonard Mades (1918–2017) taught comparative literature, French and Spanish at Hunter College, from which he retired as Professor Emeritus. The winner of a PEN International Prize for Translation, in the 1950s he worked for CARE in El Salvador, Haiti, and Bolivia.
Megan McDowell has won the English PEN award, the Premio Valle-Inclán, and a 2020 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; she also has been nominated four times for the International Booker Prize. She won the 2022 National Book Award in translation alongside Samanta Schweblin for Seven Empty Houses.
Hardie St. Martin was born in 1924 in Belize. The translator of Vincente Aleixandre, Roque Dalton, Enrique Lihn, Nicanor Parra, and Luisa Valenzuela, he was a Guggenheim fellow and won a PEN International Translation Award. He died in 2007.
One of the great novels not only of Spanish America but of our time.
— Carlos Fuentes
Donoso, as I have long believed, belongs to that small company of storytellers who write not for a region but for the entire world: a gigantic masterpiece.
— Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
It would be a crass understatement to say that this book is a challenging read; it's totally and unapologetically psychotic. It's also insanely gothic, brilliantly engaging, exquisitely written, filthy, sick, terrifying, supremely perplexing, and somehow connives to make the brave reader feel like a tiny, sleeping gnat being sucked down a fabulously kaleidoscopic dream plughole.
— Nicola Barker - The Guardian
Donoso has learned to multiply by myth and this gives his work a resonance and amplitude that puts him alongside Carpentier, Cortázar and Garcia Marquez.
— Paul West - The Washington Post Book World
To say he’s the best Chilean novelist of the century is to insult him. I don’t think Donoso had such paltry ambitions.
— Roberto Bolaño
Donoso is one of the most important contemporary Spanish-language writers. … He gave the novel a very personal touch, distancing it from traditionally regionalist, realistic Latin American literature, he greatly modernized it. This was thanks, on the one hand, to a very broad literary education, to his knowledge of English literature, which he preferred, and also to his drawing from an inner life that was original, rich, with great imagery and originality, a world constructed in his image and semblance and into which he poured his manias, his fantasies, his most secret ghosts, which was furthermore constructed with great skill, with deep technical knowledge of the resources of modern literature.
— Mario Vargas Llosa
With this book Donoso becomes a world novelist.
The story line is like a great puzzle invested with a vibrant, almost tangible reality.
— The New York Times
A challenging but wonderfully strange read.
— NoViolet Bulawayo
Yes, a miracle, a climactic act of magic for a book that is itself both Miracle and Monster, like the best of this century’s American fiction. I have no idea what fate awaits it, but it certainly deserves to take its place alongside the major works of Asturias and Fuentes, Cortázar, Borges and Rulfo, Vargas Llosa and García Márquez.
— Robert Coover - The New York Times
Donoso must be counted as one of the spinal writers of the extraordinary boom in Latin-American fiction which spread through the reading world from the mid-sixties on.
— Alastair Reed - The New Yorker
Jose Donoso is my favorite author of the Latin American boom (better than Gabriel Garcia Márquez).
— Fernanda Melchor
And amid all this, Donoso wrote his masterpiece—in my opinion, a perfect novel. The Obscene Bird of Night, out in an unabridged translation by Megan McDowell from New Directions in April, is the crowning achievement of the gothic horror genre. The style of The Obscene Bird of Night is all its own, a story assembled from the gossip of society’s highs and lows, which revolves and blurs into a series of interlinked nightmares in which people lose their memory, their sex, or even their literal organs. As you read, you wake from one dream only to enter another, sentences moving between genders, ages, and histories with such precision as to feel ambiguous.
— Zachary Issenberg - The Millions