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The Obscene Bird of Night

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,248 Ratings  ·  106 Reviews
Humberto, who lives and works at a convent home for old women, loses his sanity as he becomes obsessed with black magic and his duty to protect a monstrous child.
Paperback, 438 pages
Published June 30th 2003 by David R. Godine Publisher (first published 1970)
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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe House of the Spirits by Isabel AllendeLike Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
Favorite Magical Realism Novels
90th out of 847 books — 3,925 voters
The Obscene Bird of Night by José DonosoLas Bestias by J.L. FloresEl Cuento Chileno de Terror by VariousLa Endemoniada De Santiago by Jose Raimundo ZisternasEl Horror de Berkoff by Francisco Ortega
Chilean terror
1st out of 28 books — 20 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Adam Floridia
Oct 20, 2012 Adam Floridia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-books
The perfect review of The Obscene Bird of Night would actually be this.

The image that burned in my brain as I read was Goya's El Gran Cabron

Pathetically, that's about the best review I can offer...which is surprising because I'm usually so stingy with my 5-star ratings.

This was NOT what the back of the book promised--the story of an aristocrat who "protects" his deformed child by imprisoning him in a world of monsters. Sure, that was in there, but the primary story is driven by the narrator(s??
Jun 21, 2010 Greg rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
About a hundred pages in, there is a scene where a shriveled elderly dwarf woman pretends to be the baby for an obese partially retarded teenage girl and the relationship between the two quickly turns disturbingly sexual.

Why relate this? Because it sets the tone for what this novel is like better than saying probably everything I'm going to say.

This novel is a mess. It's disturbing and beautiful and grotesque and horrific, but it's also a mess. Someone could probably go through book with a fin
The Obscene Bird of Night is one strange, twisted, haunting, obscene book. It may well be the most difficult novel I've read so far. There were moments when I felt that I could connect to it and even understand it, but most of the time I felt like floating inside a grotesque nightmare, with walled-up windows and doors, not being able to find my way out. If, by chance, I was brusquely expelled into reality, I was compelled by an utter fascination to go back in and have my brains turned to mush.

Mar 05, 2010 Szplug rated it it was amazing
The dark terrors that roil in the benighted depths of the subconscious, bursting forth to poison midnight dreams and shadows, put their stamp on all of the mythologies that man wove from the preternatural mysteries that surrounded, oppressed, and exhilarated him from the furthest nebulous reaches of humanity's dawn. Their particular imprint on South American magic and witchcraft—and the chilling meme of the imbunche, a helpless infant with all nine orifices cruelly sewn shut in order to become t ...more
Apr 09, 2008 Gabriel rated it it was amazing
Forget about all of this magical realism claptrap and comparisons to Garcia Marquez et al.

Donoso has written a sharpened stick to jab in the world's eye, according to the principles Poe expounded in his famous review of Hawthorne's "Twice Told Tales." Poe's supposition that such "unity of effect" as is the author's goal cannot be sustained over the length of a work that takes more than one sitting to read is here completely refuted by Donoso's incredible sense of resonance. Everything here boun
themes of identity, humanity, reality, and belonging cycle through and circle the obscene bird of night. it's not really pleasant to read, though there are moments where a smile is not out of order. most often it's really bizarre, and misleading, horrific even as it is compelling. before philip k. dick died he was trying to write a book called the owl in daylight. i suspect he would have written his own version of the obscene bird of night. i think he would have understood this book. i cannot sa ...more
Apr 15, 2013 Rowena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: latin-america
I suspect that with a re-read of this book I'd probably give it a 5-star rating. I went into this book not really knowing what to expect, I was very intrigued by the title.

This was a strangely compelling book,though it took a while for me to get into it.It's a story full of magical realism, which I read that someone described as a dream/nightmare. A very fitting description.
I had no idea who the narrators were half the time but I did enjoy it a lot. I also came across one of the weirdest mythic
Oct 23, 2011 knig rated it liked it
Point of fact: It is not humanly possible to figure out what exactly is happening in the Obscene Bird of Night (OBN). This may very well be the leitmotif of magical realism, but here, we have a splintering of human reality so profound that the whole piece fractures into miniscule shards which are propelled disparately away from the epi centre in furious motion, so when the dust settles, there is simply nothing tangible left to commemorate the premise.

The skeleton of OBN is framed by the multiple
Vit Babenco
Sep 12, 2015 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing
“It was a sealed world, stifling, like living inside a sack and trying to bite through the burlap to get out or let in the air and find out if your destiny lies outside or inside or somewhere else, to drink in some fresh air not confined by your obsessions, to see where you began to be yourself and stopped being others…”
The Obscene Bird of Night is magic realism and beyond… It is magic realism on the Gothic side. The Obscene Bird of Night is a world seen through a prism of madness…
“He felt the n
Eddie Watkins
Oct 16, 2014 Eddie Watkins rated it really liked it
Shelves: chilean-fiction
I read this quite a while ago and it's one of those books I keep telling myself to read again because I missed too much the first time through. All the memories I have of the book are probably false ones, but there is a general sense of elaborate deaths and elaborate reactions to deaths in somewhat tropical surroundings. There's also a sense of general bewilderment, but I do definitely remember that this is the book that made it very clear to me how much certain Latin novelists owed to William F ...more
Christina Wilder
I picked this up because A) the author is Chilean, like me, and B) I adore experimental literature. Still, this just got too weird for me at times, and that was distracting.

What I did enjoy was the symbolism, the array of characters, the overall comments on sexuality and feminine/masculine roles in society.

However, one part stuck out to me, and not in a good way. At one point, (view spoiler)
Jun 04, 2015 Geoff marked it as to-read
Look at that cover! I want the edition with this cover!
May 06, 2008 Dawn rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in subverting the traditional forms of a novel.
I can say with confidence that I have never read a book like this before. I can say with less confidence that this is the case because no one has ever written a book like this before, noting that it is a definite possibility!

To describe the novel as being labrynthe-esque is to do a disservice to its complexity; it is as if I was deep below the surface of the ocean - unable to grasp which way was up, which way was down.

Typically, when I read something that I am unable to gain my bearings in, I g
Lolly K Dandeneau
Aug 11, 2008 Lolly K Dandeneau rated it it was amazing
This book was for me a grosteque hallucination. It is not an easy read, I felt dizzy often and rendered speechless. It is heart breaking and horrifying. The deformed child is surrounded by other 'monsters' in seclusion. Abnormality becomes the ordinary, and my stomach spent a lot of time twisting until I felt quesy. Not many books induce such physical reactions. It is not for the weak, as you will plumment into a disturbing dream. For me, it is one of the greatest books ever penned!
The Crimson Fucker
I’m less than 60 pages from finishing this book… and I don’t think I’ll ever finish it… I don’t want no more nightmares, every time I read this book I can’t stop reading it and when I do I don’t wanna go back to it! is so good!! but so fucking scary!!!
Teresa Islas
Apr 11, 2013 Teresa Islas rated it it was amazing
A más de treinta años de su publicación, en El obsceno pájaro de la noche aún leemos las mejores páginas de Donoso, el "más literario de todos los literatos del boom", según Vargas Llosa. Es con esta novela, trabajada durante unos ocho años, que el autor cierra todo un ciclo temático que incluye Coronación, El lugar sin límites y Este domingo. En ella se explota la problemática del mundo de la ficción posmoderna, concebida como la coexistencia de diversas realidades discursivas igualmente posibl ...more
Espero terminar este mes la lectura. Ya es mucho, partí en enero de 2009. (abril 2009)

Sigo sufriendo, aunque ahora menos. Espero acabar con este pájaro ahora en mayo. (mayo 2009)

Al fin lo terminé. ¿Qué puedo decir después del calvario de cuatro meses de lectura, desde mis vacaciones hasta las jornadas laborales de hoy? Un librazo, una historia para disfrutarla, para haberla leído 30 años atrás. Una historia delirante de mundos mágicos y surrealistas, con el lenguaje intenso de Donoso, con chilen
Kristen Stopp
Jun 23, 2010 Kristen Stopp rated it it was amazing
Mind blowingly sad, surrealistic, beautiful, repulsive - I can't finish it. I am nearly to the end and I still don't know how exactly how I feel about what I've read up to this point. I'm afraid to continue; I don't know that I'm up to the task of processing what I've read once I've finished the last sentence. Powerful writing, maybe too powerful for me at the moment. I suspect I'll have this one on my "currently reading' shelf for a good, long while.
2015 Reading Challenge #42. Un libro que tengas pero que nunca hayas leído

El obsceno pájaro de la noche es una pesadilla!
Ale Vergara
Aug 07, 2014 Ale Vergara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cuánta sordidez en un solo libro. Cuánta mugre, cuánto terror, cuanta monstruosidad y --sobre todo-- cuánto asombro.

Es una novela hecha de superposiciones. Personajes que se superponen a otros y a otros y a otros hasta volverse una caricatura grotesca. Un narrador que se superpone pero también se amalgama con otras voces. Un mundo fantástico y aterrador que se va superponiendo a la realidad.

El obsceno pájaro de la noche está narrado, en su totalidad, por Humberto Peñaloza, sin embargo, se logr
Jul 21, 2009 Ryan rated it really liked it
The narrative and narrator mutate often enough, but the same focus and themes are constantly present. Thus, the plot never seems to advance, instead feeling like various manifestations of an archetypal mythology (of the imbunche?) A single moment / event is exploded outward and examined through several subjective viewpoints. Eventually all contact is lost with 'reality' when the narrator's alienation is complete, plunging into a grim fantasy world that turns the tale of the minotaur on its head: ...more
Feb 08, 2008 Amy rated it really liked it
Shelves: latin-america
This book will most obviously draw comparisons with Garcia Marquez's work, as Obscene Bird is also a great example of magical realism. Reading this book is like entering a slightly alternate universe...the ending of an aristocratic line and the attempts to stop that from happening, a commune of old ladies and a couple orphans awaiting a virgin birth that will be their ticket to heaven, a deformed child surrounded by "freaks" to alter his perception of "normal", witchcraft, and the blurring of le ...more
Claudio Saavedra
Dec 30, 2013 Claudio Saavedra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Qué pedazo de libro. Brillante, confuso, tosco, de un lenguaje tremendamente chileno y una construcción de diálogos y personajes brutalmente auténtica. Es que la chilenidad de este libro se desborda por los costados. Es además uno de aquellos libros que, aunque uno trate una y otra vez de aislar un párrafo o frase para citar, no logra conseguirlo: el libro es demasiado bueno, complejo, enmarañado como para aceptar citas.

Curiosamente, este pedazo de literatura de Donoso no parece ser particularme
Jan 27, 2008 Meg rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was recommended this book based on my love of magical realism. It's possible there is value here but I couldn't really find it. First in Spanish, then in English, thinking I must be missing something, but no, it really was an exercise in affectation. I found the writing self-important --just more of that dreggy stuff beloved by grad students for how psychologically "interesting" it is --sometimes there are things that don't work well when deconstructed (such as, in my opinion, storytelling). J ...more
Jun 01, 2008 Tait rated it it was amazing
It's hard to describe exactly what the book is about, the back cover blurb says it's the story of the last member of an aristocratic family who is born a monster and locked up in a labyrinth of other monsters so that he never learns what he really is, but at the same time this is only a small part of what are many other interwoven plots in the book. However, what was almost more fascinating than the oftentimes decadent and disturbing content, is the way that Donoso manages of weaving the entire ...more
Sep 27, 2007 Fredoviola rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interesting in strange fiction
What moved me the most about this book, and wildly so, was the way the author seemed to actually work magic using an unusually psychologically based magical realism. The main character is the central-consciousness of the novel, and the reader is made to identify his/her own thoughts with this persona... then the author begins to shift and change that persona, from male to female and further. It left me feeling, again, like I had actually experienced a work of magic. An amazing book!
Feb 12, 2014 Arkskier rated it it was ok
About the Author

Jose Donoso was born in 1924 in Chile to a middle-class family. He studied English Literature at Princeton and after graduation, taught at the University of Chile and worked as a journalist. In 1962, he received the William Faulkner Foundation Prize, and in 1965-67, he taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Together with Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Vargas Llosa, Donoso is said to have contributed to a boom in Latin American literature, what’s called
María Greene
Sep 22, 2015 María Greene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tuve que leerlo por obligación y al principio fue terrible para mí, porque no me gustó nada. Nada, nada, y me sentía como esos niños a quienes se les obliga a comer o se les meten remedios a la fuerza. Más encima, antes solo había leído de Donoso, también por obligación, "Coronación", que me pareció somnífero (tal vez debería leerlo de nuevo, ahora que soy más grande), así que pésimo augurio para mí entonces. Y no podía escapar.

Pero después, OH DIOS. QUÉ LIBRAZO. Es de los pocos que... me ha dej
Feb 28, 2010 Gena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Derek warned me that this, his 2009 Best Book of the Year, was also the most disturbing read of the year. In both capacities it did not disappoint. A surreal, nightmarish descent into the mind of fictional narration itself, which experiences the freedom of its abstraction and multiplicity as grotesque deformity. Oddly beautiful, if you can believe that, and absolutely captivating.
Santiago Tuesta
Feb 03, 2016 Santiago Tuesta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Al maestro José Donoso le tomó, oficialmente, ocho años de su vida liberarse de “El obsceno pájaro de la noche”, incontables derrames de úlcera, idas y venidas, renuncias y reencuentros; y sobre todo, un episodio de esquizofrenia que según sus palabras le ordenó los papeles de aquel pájaro cuyas alas desbordaban caóticamente. Esta exquisita novela sugiere la degradación de la burguesía chilena. Es cierto, pero le daría dos calificativos: polifónica y monstruosa. Es una novela “coral”, la novena ...more
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José Donoso Yáñez was a Chilean writer. He lived most of his life in Chile, although he spent some years in self-imposed exile in Mexico, the United States (Iowa) and Spain. After 1973, he claimed his exile was a form of protest against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Donoso is the author of a number of remarkable stories and novels, which contributed greatly to the Latin American literary bo
More about José Donoso...

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“No estoy enamorado de ti. Ni siquiera despiertas en mí una de esas nostalgias aberrantes que los hombres de mi edad sienten con la proximidad de una vida joven: eres un ser inferior, Iris Mateluna, un trozo de existencia primaria que rodea a un útero reproductor tan central a tu persona que todo el resto de tu ser es cáscara superflua.” 8 likes
“Yo no entiendo, Madre Benita, cómo usted puede seguir creyendo en un Dios mezquino que fabricó tan pocas máscaras, somos tantos los que nos quedamos recogiendo de aquí y de allá cualquier desperdicio con que disfrazarnos para tener la sensación de que somos alguien (...)” 5 likes
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