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The Obscene Bird of Night
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The Obscene Bird of Night

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  1,097 ratings  ·  91 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
98th out of 809 books — 3,641 voters
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Latina/Latino Fiction
72nd out of 491 books — 745 voters

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Community Reviews

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Adam Floridia
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??
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.

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
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
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
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
Christina Wilder
I just couldn't, guys.

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)
May 06, 2008 Dawn rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Eddie Watkins
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
Teresa Islas
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
Lolly LKH
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!!!
2015 Reading Challenge #42. Un libro que tengas pero que nunca hayas leído

El obsceno pájaro de la noche es una pesadilla!
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
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
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
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 5 of 5 stars
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!
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
Kristen Stopp
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.
Ale Vergara
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
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.
This is a nightmarish, surreal, deep complex and interwoven novel written by Chilean author Donoso in 1970. The story(?) takes place in The Chimba region of Chile in, I think in the 1970s as telephones, Rolling Stones and Che Guevara are mentioned, though there really are very few references to time – giving it a very Gothic feel.

First I think I’ll say what I ‘think’ the underlying story is about: Senator Jeronimo de Azcoitia is married to barren Ines and they meet the young aspiring author/lawy
Paul Piro
I have to give myself a pat on the back for perseverance, for not bailing out on this one and for finishing it. It was a laborious read. I could not connect in a meaningful way to any of the characters or to a narrator or narrators in other words the characters failed to connect with me. Either way I could not get intimate with the story or it with me. The book strikes me as coming from an very intellectual place, a place perhaps lacking in heart. Events or similar ones quickly became repetitive ...more
Paul A.
Nunca esperé que esta novela me impactara de la manera que lo hizo. Inclusive, al adentrarme en los primeros capítulos, mi motivación por leerla fue decayendo, pero en determinado momento logró atraparme de tal manera que me arrepiento de haberla terminado en tan poco tiempo.

Es una novela que merece tiempo y atención, las habilidades narrativas de Donoso en este libro me maravillaron, la historia, puede tener sus altos y bajos, pero sus bajos son medios y sus altos son maravillosos. Esa narraci
One way to sum up the experience of reading this novel would be to suggest that Salvador Dali would be the perfect person to illustrate it. Does that give a hint as to the surreal journey of immersing oneself in this tale? Be prepared to suspend reality and abandon yourself to the rapid current of this novel. Once I did that I found that I was thoroughly entranced. I could say that this is the tale of one man's obsession with continuation of his proud family line regardless the cost, but that wo ...more
[Note: Italian translation] [1]

I'm not sure whether to give this one 3 or 3.5 stars (how about 3.25?).
I liked it, but it didn't have that certain something (not sure what, flow maybe?).
Magic realism with a heavy dose of the grotesque.
Think Marquez, but filmed by David Lynch (or painted by Goya).
A stream-of-collective-conscience narration of witches and nuns and freaks, where the dialog and the telling blend together.

The structure is what makes it interesting. The narration and the narrator shift
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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
“Why were you following me? Or were you after me? No, you weren't after me. It was just that someone, and the someone had to be you, was upsetting the balance of the emptiness of my nights, in which nothing could touch me - not even memories, not even desire - in which there was no other presence to threaten my vulnerability.” 5 likes
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