José Donoso

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José Donoso
Donoso in 1981
Donoso in 1981
BornJosé Manuel Donoso Yáñez
(1924-10-05)5 October 1924
Died7 December 1996(1996-12-07) (aged 72)
OccupationWriter, journalist, professor
Alma materPrinceton University
GenreNovel, short story
Literary movementLatin American Boom
Notable worksHell Has No Limits,
The Obscene Bird of Night
Notable awardsNational Prize for Literature (Chile) 1990
Years active20th century
SpouseMaría del Pilar Serrano
ChildrenPilar Donoso

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 against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. He returned to Chile in 1981 and lived there until his death.

Donoso is the author of a number of short stories and novels, which contributed greatly to the Latin American literary boom. His best known works include the novels Coronación (Coronation), El lugar sin límites (Hell Has No Limits) and El obsceno pájaro de la noche (The Obscene Bird of Night). His works deal with a number of themes, including sexuality, the duplicity of identity, psychology, and a sense of dark humor.

Early life[edit]

Donoso was born in Santiago to the physician José Donoso Donoso and Alicia Yáñez (Eliodoro Yáñez's niece). He studied in The Grange School, where he was classmates with Luis Alberto Heiremans and Carlos Fuentes, and in Liceo José Victorino Lastarria (José Victorino Lastarria High School). Coming from a comfortable family, during his childhood he worked as a juggler and an office worker, much before he developed as a writer and teacher.[citation needed]

In 1945 he traveled to the southernmost part of Chile and Argentina, where he worked on sheep farms in the province of Magallanes. Two years later, he finished high school and signed up to study English in the Institute of Teaching in the Universidad de Chile (University of Chile). In 1949, thanks to a scholarship from the Doherty Foundation, he changed to studying English literature at Princeton University, where he studied under such professors as R. P. Blackmur, Lawrence Thompson and Allan Tate. The Princeton magazine, MSS, published his first two stories, both written in English: "The Blue Woman" (1950) and "The Poisoned Pastries" (1951).[1] Donoso graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Princeton in 1951 after completing a senior thesis titled "The Elegance of Mind of Jane Austen. An Interpretation of Her Novels Through the Attitudes of Heroines."[2]


In 1951, he traveled to Mexico and Central America. He then returned to Chile and in 1954 started teaching English at the Universidad Católica (Catholic University) and in the Kent School.

His first book, Veraneo y otros cuentos (Summer Vacation and Other Stories), was published in 1955 and won the Premio Municipal de Santiago (Municipal Prize of Santiago) the following year. In 1957, while he lived with a family of fishermen in the Isla Negra, he published his first novel, Coronación (Coronation), in which he described the high Santiaguina classes and their decadence. Eight years later, it was translated and published in the United States by Alfred A Knopf and in England by The Bodley Head.

In 1958, he left Chile for Buenos Aires, returning to Chile in 1960.[3]

He started writing for the magazine Revista Ercilla in 1959 when he found himself traveling through Europe, from where he sent his reports. He continued as an editor and literary critic of that publication until 1964. He was also a co-editor of the Mexican journal Siempre.[4][5]

In 1961, he married the painter, writer and translator María del Pilar Serrano (1925–1997), also known as María Esther Serrano Mendieta, daughter of Juan Enrique Serrano Pellé from Chile and Graciela Mendieta Alvarez from Bolivia. Donoso had previously met her in Buenos Aires.[3]

They left Chile again in 1965 for Mexico and later Donoso was a writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa from 1965 to 1967, when he moved with his wife to Spain.[3][1] In 1968, the couple adopted a three-month-old girl from Madrid, whom they named María del Pilar Donoso Serrano, best known as Pilar Donoso.[6]

In 1981, after his return to Chile, he conducted a literature workshop in the which, during the first period, many writers like Roberto Brodsky, Marco Antonio de la Parra, Carlos Franz, Carlos Iturra, Eduardo Llanos, Marcelo Maturana, Sonia Montecino Aguirre, Darío Oses, Roberto Rivera and, very fleetingly, Jaime Collyer, Gonzalo Contreras, and Jorge Marchant Lazcano, among others. Later, Arturo Fontaine Talavera, Alberto Fuguet and Ágata Gligo attended, among others.

At the same time, he continued publishing novels, even though they didn't receive the same repercussions as preceding works: La desesperanza (Curfew), the novellas Taratuta and Naturaleza muerta con cachimba (Still Life with Pipe) and Donde van a morir los elefantes (1995). El mocho (1997) and Lagartija sin cola (The Lizard's Tale) were published posthumously.[citation needed]


José Donoso died of liver cancer in his house in Santiago, 7 December 1996 at the age of 72.[7] On his deathbed, according to popular belief, he asked that they read him the poems of Altazor of Vicente Huidobro. His remains were buried in the cemetery of a spa located in the province of Petorca, 80 kilometers from Valparaíso.[8]

In 2009, his daughter, Pilar Donoso, published a biography of her father titled Correr el tupido velo (Drawing the Veil), based on her father's private diaries, notes and letters, as well as Pilar's own memories.[9]



  • Coronación (1957). Translated by Jocasta Goodwin as Coronation (1965).
  • El lugar sin límites (1966). Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine as Hell Has No Limits (Sun & Moon Press, 1995).
  • Este domingo (1966). This Sunday.
  • El obsceno pájaro de la noche (1970). Translated by Hardie St. Martin and Leonard Mades as The Obscene Bird of Night (Knopf, 1973).
  • Casa de campo (1978). Translated by David Pritchard and Suzanne Jill Levine as A House in the Country (Knopf, 1984).
  • La misteriosa desaparición de la marquesita de Loria (1981)
  • El jardín de al lado (1981). Translated by Hardie St. Martin as The Garden Next Door (Grove, 1994).
  • La desesperanza (1986). Translated by Alfred MacAdam as Curfew (George Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1988).
  • Donde van a morir los elefantes (1995)
  • El mocho (posthumous, 1997)
  • Lagartija sin cola (posthumous, 2007). Translated by Julio Ortega and Suzanne Jill Levine as The Lizard's Tale (Northwestern University Press, 2011).


  • Tres novelitas burguesas (1973). Translated by Andrée Conrad as Sacred Families: Three Novellas (Knopf, 1977).
    • Contains: Chatanooga choochoo, Átomo verde número cinco and Gaspard de la nuit
  • Cuatro para Delfina (1982).
    • Contains: Sueños de mala muerte, Los habitantes de una ruina inconclusa, El tiempo perdido and Jolie Madame
  • Taratuta y Naturaleza muerta con cachimba (1990). Translated by Gregory Rabassa as Taratuta and Still Life with Pipe (W. W. Norton, 1994).
  • Nueve novelas breves (1996).
    • Compiles Tres novelitas burguesas, Cuatro para Delfina and Taratuta y Naturaleza muerta con cachimba

Short story collections[edit]

  • Veraneo y otros cuentos, 1955. Summer Vacation and Other Stories.
    • Contains seven stories: "Veraneo", "Tocayos", "El Güero", "Una señora", "Fiesta en grande", "Dos cartas" and "Dinamarquero"
  • El charleston, 1960
    • Contains five stories: "El charleston", "La puerta cerrada", "Ana María", "Paseo" and "El hombrecito." Translated by Andrée Conrad as Charleston and Other Stories (David R. Godine, 1977), which also includes "Summertime" ("Veraneo"), "El Güero" ("The Güero"), "Una señora" ("A Lady"), "The Dane's Place," and "Santelices."
  • Los mejores cuentos de José Donoso, 1966, selection by Luis Domínguez, Zig-Zag. Republished as Cuentos, Seix Barral, Barcelona 1971.
    • Contains: "Veraneo", "Tocayos", "El Güero", "Una señora", "Fiesta en grande", "Dos cartas", "Dinamarquero", "El charleston", "La puerta cerrada", "Ana María", "Paseo", "El hombrecito", "China" and "Santelices"
  • Veraneo y sus mejores cuentos, Santiago, Zig-Zag, 1985
    • Contains ten stories: "Veraneo", "Tocayos", "El Güero", "Una señora", "Fiesta en grande", "Dos cartas", "Dinamarquero", "Paseo", "El hombrecito" and "Santelices"
  • Cuentos (anthology, Alfaguara, 1997)


  • Poemas de un novelista (1981)


  • Historia personal del "boom" (1972). Translated by Gregory Kolovakos as The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History (1977).
  • Artículos de incierta necesidad, 1998, selection of his articles published for magazines compiled by Cecilia García-Huidobro
  • Conjeturas sobre la memoria de mi tribu (fictional memories, 1996)

Awards and honors[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  • The self in the narratives of José Donoso: Chile, 1924–1996 / Mary Lusky Friedman., 2004
  • The veracity of disguise in selected works of José Donoso: illusory deception / Brent J Carbajal., 2000
  • José Donoso's house of fiction: a dramatic construction of time and place / Flora María González Mandri., 1995
  • Understanding José Donoso / Sharon Magnarelli., 1993
  • Studies on the works of José Donoso: an anthology of critical essays / Miriam Adelstein., 1990
  • José Donoso, the "boom" and beyond / Philip Swanson., 1988
  • The creative process in the works of José Donoso / Guillermo I Castillo-Feliú., 1982
  • José Donoso (Twayne's World Authors Series) / George R McMurray., 1979


  • Racionalidad e imaginación: transposiciones del cuerpo y de la mente en los cuentos de José Donoso / Sergio Véliz., 2001
  • Las últimas obras de José Donoso: juegos, roles y rituales en la subversión del poder / Michael Colvin., 2001
  • Donoso sin límites / Carlos Cerda., 1997
  • José Donoso, escritura y subversión del significado / Laura A Chesak., 1997
  • José Donoso: desde el texto al metatexto / Enrique Luengo., 1992
  • El simbolismo en la obra de José Donoso / Augusto C Sarrochi., 1992
  • José Donoso, impostura e impostación / Ricardo Gutiérrez Mouat., 1983
  • José Donoso: incursiones en su producción novelesca / Myrna Solotorevsky., 1983
  • Ideología y estructuras narrativas en José Donoso, 1950–1970 / Hugo Achugar., 1979
  • José Donoso: una insurrección contra la realidad / Isis Quinteros., 1978
  • José Donoso: la destrucción de un mundo / José Promis Ojeda., 1975


  1. ^ a b Magnarelli, Sharon (1993). Understanding José Donoso. Univ of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-87249-844-0.
  2. ^ Donoso, Jose Manuel (1951). "The Elegance of Mind of Jane Austen. An Interpretation of Her Novels Through the Attitudes of Heroines". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Cortés, Eladio; Cortes, Eladio; Barrea-Marlys, Mirta (2003). Encyclopedia of Latin American Theater (in Spanish). Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-29041-1.
  4. ^ Ryan, Bryan (1991). Hispanic Writers: A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors. Gale Research. ISBN 978-0-8103-7688-5.
  5. ^ Smith, Verity (26 March 1997). Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-31425-5.
  6. ^ Bollig, Ben (1 March 2015). "A Lizard's Tale: Irony and Immanent Critique in José Donoso's Lagartija sin cola". Romance Studies. 33 (2): 141–152. doi:10.1179/0263990415Z.00000000094. ISSN 0263-9904.
  7. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (9 December 1996). "Jose Donoso, 72, Fantastical Chilean Novelist". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  8. ^ Ortega, Julio (21 August 2003). "Los papeles de José Donoso". Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  9. ^ "Correr el tupido velo, de Pilar Donoso". Letras Libres (in Spanish). Retrieved 25 June 2020.

External links[edit]