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The Obscene Bird of Night

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  2,326 ratings  ·  249 reviews
This haunting jungle of a novel has been hailed as “a masterpiece” by Luis Buñuel and “one of the great novels not only of Spanish America, but of our time” by Carlos Fuentes. The story of the last member of the aristocratic Azcoitia family, a monstrous mutation protected from the knowledge of his deformity by being surrounded with other freaks as companions, The Obscene B ...more
Paperback, 438 pages
Published June 30th 2003 by David R. Godine Publisher (first published 1970)
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Average rating 4.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,326 ratings  ·  249 reviews

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Nov 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely incredible. A masterpiece that deserves much wider readership.

Looking at some reviews around the place for this and noting the struggles some seemed to have had, I wanted to (in a non-spoilery way) set out how I would propose approaching the reading of this incredible book.

(view spoiler)
Vit Babenco
Sep 07, 2015 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
Adam Floridia
Dec 25, 2011 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??
Feb 26, 2010 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
Jun 16, 2010 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.

Katia N
Oct 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the one of those novels when the reader is the active participant in the text. There are infinite number of interpretations one can give to the book. And I am sure, if I would read it more times, each time I would come up with something slightly different. One thing is clear - this book defies many conventions of story telling. There is no time frame or chronology, the characters are fluid. There is one strong unifying voice emanating from the book, and I suspect it is the author’s voice ...more
Feb 04, 2008 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
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
(Black) Magic Realism

"The Obscene Bird of Night" is a surreal nightmare of horror, feverish eroticism and visionary claustrophobia that eludes any attempt to classify it in any well-defined genre.
"The House of the Spirits" and Goya's "Black Paintings"; Victor Hugo's "The Laughing Man" and J.P. Witkin's photography; such are the literary and visual references I was reminded of while reading this book. Images of crippled bodies and obscure rituals, deformity and superstition haunt this weird tal
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
Sep 22, 2011 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
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a difficult but constantly compelling and awe-inspiring book. Difficult primarily because of its narrator, whose identity is unstable. Compelling and awe-inspiring for its ceaseless and demented imagination.

Our narrator, Mudito, is a sort of dogsbody in the Casa, an adobe walled Convent populated by old women and orphans, full of labyrinthine hallways and boarded up doors. The Casa survives on the patronage of Ines Azcoitia, absent in Rome attempting to secure the beatification of her n
Apr 08, 2013 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
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
*big sigh*

No good read, no good review. It's equally possible that I failed to maintain the attentiveness needed (I did interrupt it for a few days to read Hamlet) and that this just isn't my jam. I can agree with the accolades while still asserting that I found the read unrewarding, can't I? I'll admit I may have suffered a full-blown episode of stupidity, but even flipping through it now I can't find much to make me care, not even the symbolic joints of paternity, monstrosity, history, politic
Mar 24, 2008 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
Eddie Watkins
May 17, 2008 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
Jun 04, 2015 marked it as to-read
Look at that cover! I want the edition with this cover!
Oct 08, 2016 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
I haven't decided on a rating for this because it's so unreal that I can't come to terms with it yet. ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
Aug 11, 2008 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! ...more
Oct 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Flashes of seriously gorgeous prose... particularly in the closing section (and just about any time the monster/boy speaks). Not nearly as dark or disturbing as I expected or yearned for, and I think the rating suffered as a result. Still very enjoyable, with my full endorsement and recommendation.
Ricky Bosso
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a cave, and to descend into it is an intimate experience. Status and identity, if not the same, are shown for their tendency to change, to blur and intermix, to disappear in places. The Obscene Bird of Night is steeped in Chilean sentiment, and it is as personal as it is political.

It’s hard to forget, and I can’t think of anything really like it. Easily one of the best.
The Literary Chick
Black Magic Realism. Three interwoven stories, transformations, mutations, magic, and metamorphosis. Must be read with the open mindedness of a child to allow oneself to follow the juxtaposition of the stories, the transformations of the characters (a writer, a mute, a baby, an old woman - and that's only one character). The worlds Donoso creates are by turns exquisitely beautiful and grotesquely nightmarish. Giving it 5 stars because even though I wanted to climb out of the Hades Donoso creates ...more
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!!!
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was ok
This book freaked me the #$%@ out. Everything just seemed so dirty. I can remember almost nothing about it, though, because my mind is pure my mind is pure my mind is pure
Jan 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a hidden masterpiece, equal parts horror, magical realism and myth building and breaking. It's hard for me to even try to describe what it's actually about. It starts with the basic narrative of a house of worship owned by an aristocratic family that's seen better days, now a home of a handful of nuns and a small population of old women servants and orphans, and our deaf-mute narrator who serves as kind of a caretaker. The narrative unspools and becomes a twisted, tangled web when the hi ...more
Kristen Stopp
Jun 23, 2010 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. ...more
Feb 28, 2010 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.
Cymru Roberts
Got through three chapters of this... After the first I had that feeling I'd stepped into the asylum and could hear the door locking behind me. On the few afternoons I got to this it gave off a very bewitching, sultrily evil vibe which was pretty chill, but the book was just not expedient enough for where I'm at right now. Hopefully I come back to this soon, cuz it deserves a full read-through. ...more
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a dense book, confusing, and requires a lot of the reader. It’s not for everyone, and if you hate magical realism, shifting and ambiguous narratives, or tons of symbolism, you might want to skip this book.
Jake Shaw
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Terrifying, frenetic, but amazing
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From Wikipedia: José Manuel Donoso Yáñez (5 October 1924 – 7 December 1996), known as José Donoso, was a Chilean writer, journalist and professor. He lived most of his life in Chile, although he spent many years in self-imposed exile in Mexico, the United States and Spain. Although he had left his country in the sixties for personal reasons, after 1973 he said his exile was also a form of protest ...more

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