The Obscene Bird of Night

José Donoso

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

Newly revised and updated by Megan McDowell, the unabridged, centennial edition of Donoso’s terrifying masterpiece finally sees the light of day

Available Apr, 23 2024

The Obscene Bird of Night

Fiction by José Donoso

Translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell, Hardie St. Martin and Leonard Mades

With a contribution by Alejandro Zambra

Deep in a maze of musty, forgotten hallways, Mudito rummages through piles of old newspapers. The mute caretaker of a 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 Jerónimo’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...

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.

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Portrait of José Donoso

José Donoso

A prize-winning writer of novels, novellas, short stories, and poetry

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, 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

Donoso is one of the most important contemporary Spanish-language writers.

Mario Vargas Llosa

With this book Donoso becomes a world novelist.


One of the great novels not only of Spanish America but of our time.

Carlos Fuentes

Donoso has learned to multiply by myth and this gives his work a resonance and amplitude that puts him alongside Carpentier, Cortazar and Garcia Marquez.

Paul West, The Washington Post Book World

The storyline is like a great puzzle invested with a vibrant, almost tangible reality.

The New York Times

The Obscene Bird of Night is 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

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, Cortazar, Burges and Rulfo, Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez.

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 Ried, 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