The Obscene Bird of Night: unabridged, centennial edition (Paperback)

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The Obscene Bird of Night: unabridged, centennial edition By José Donoso, Leonard Mades (Translated by), Megan McDowell (Translated by), Hardie St. Martin (Translated by) Cover Image

The Obscene Bird of Night: unabridged, centennial edition (Paperback)

By José Donoso, Leonard Mades (Translated by), Megan McDowell (Translated by), Hardie St. Martin (Translated by)


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Staff Reviews

I get it, sometimes you're just. in the mood for a cozy, comforting read. Other times, you're in the mood. for a big, challenging, deranged, psychedelic, psychotic, perspective-shifting house of horrors in book form... and just your luck, here's a note-perfect example of the latter! Donoso is one of the undeservedly lesser-read titans of the Latin American literary boom, and this is an engulfing showstopper of an introduction to his work. Bold, bizarre, and consistently surprising, it's the kind of book that almost completely resets your expectations of what a great novel can be. Just an absolute raging, terrifying bonfire of a book. Strap in!

— From Bryan

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.

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.
Product Details ISBN: 9780811232227
ISBN-10: 0811232220
Publisher: New Directions
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2024
Pages: 464
Language: English
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.
— Newsweek

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

Donoso lets his story disintegrate into a surreal mélange of madness, cryptic rituals, and the proverbial abyss staring back. A welcome, disturbing reminder of the power of magical realism to distort and reveal by turns.
— Kirkus Reviews

In the Spanish-speaking world, Donoso is a combination of Madonna and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
— Elena Castedo

A monument of vulgarity and erudition, perfused by an eerie air of alluring, unsettling ambiguity… Donoso finds deep, dark, gleeful power in the clarity and opacity of language—to capture not reality but the fleeting and eternal strangeness of human existence.
— Greg Cwik - Slant Magazine

Donoso’s novel is, strictly speaking, an experience: of verbal imagination and penetrating psychology, pushed to the limit; fantasmal and exhausting, destructive and against the grain of the realist tradition, it enriches the possibilities of fiction.
— Roberto Brodsky

The Obscene Bird of Night, a sprawling, five-hundred-page masterpiece of psychedelic horror, is considered among the most mind-bending and formally ambitious books of the Latin American Boom—it makes One Hundred Years of Solitude seem quaintly traditional by comparison. Originally published in 1970, the novel has become an object of cult worship among lovers of dark, puzzle-like stories, who consider it unfairly neglected outside Latin America. But New Directions has marked the Chilean author’s centennial with a revised translation by Megan McDowell that restores twenty pages of text inexplicably excised from the previous translation. In today’s cultural climate, when stories are supposed to empower us to take a definite stance, Donoso’s artful blurring of the real and fanciful, literal and metaphorical, subjective and objective make The Obscene Bird impossible to instrumentalize. To call it a class parable with no discernible lesson may sound like an oxymoron, but the contradiction illuminates a great deal about the nature of power.  

— Max Pearl - The Baffler