On This Day in Hispanic History: The Death of José Donoso

The Chilean writer died 25 years ago today: December 7, 1996

When I became Catholic, one aspect of the Church that I grew to love was the liturgical calendar, which includes feast days of recognized saints. I still like to look at the calendar each day and learn a little about whose day we celebrate and why they were important. As I was thinking of new ways to blog more, it occurred to me that we could have our own “calendar” to commemorate the birthdays and/or deaths of those who made significant contributions to Hispanic culture. This post, then, is an attempt to start something along those lines.

Twenty-five years ago today, on December 7, 1996, we lost Chilean author José Donoso to liver cancer. While he may not be as well known as some of his contemporaries like Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, or Carlos Fuentes, Donoso was an important contributor to the so-called Boom Latinoamericano. He may have even been the first to coin the phrase in his book, Mi historia personal del Boom, or at the very least his definition of the movement and the authors he classifies as its members has influenced later criticism. His most well known novels include El obsceno pájaro de la noche, Coronación, and El lugar sin límites. I was a fan of his fiction ever since I read his stories “Santelices” and “Paseo” as an undergraduate student at Marquette University. While the former deals with a lonely middle-aged man who fantasizes about jungles and ferocious cats, the latter tells the story of a lonely middle-aged woman who adopts a stray dog and disappears with it one night without warning. I enjoy rereading these stories with my students still today at Western Illinois University.

Like many of his colleagues, Donoso spent many years abroad, exiling himself in places like Spain, France, and the United States, where he wrote and worked as a professor. He was even a writer-in-residence for a few years at the University of Iowa. His exile from Chile was self imposed, as a form of protest against the dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Donoso was 72 years old. Que en paz descanse.

“File:José Donoso, 1981.jpg” by Elisa Cabot is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

For those of you who speak Spanish and care to see what he was like in his prime, here is the first part of an excellent interview of Donoso for the program “A fondo,” on Spanish television with journalist Joaquín Soler Solano.

Have you read any stories by José Donoso? Tell us which one(s) and what you thought about it in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on your favorite social media. ¡Gracias!

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