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"Complete Works" and Other Stories (Texas Pan American Series) [Hardcover]

Augusto Monterroso
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

1 Jun 1995 Texas Pan American Series
"Sophisticated wit and playful surrealist fantasy dominate these ingenious and gently mocking tales, by a Guatemalan-born soul mate to the late Jorge Luis Borges. This first English translation of Monterroso's work offers the contents of his two published collections, Complete Works and Other Stories (1959) and Perpetual Motion (1972). They're a monument, if that isn't the wrong word, to this entertaining author's trademark 'concision and wit.'" --Kirkus Reviews "Monterroso is certainly the leading living Guatemalan writer. . . . His microcuentos are finely honed, highly ironic, sophisticated pieces which are both very good literature and excellent pedagogical devices. I would liken his short stories to some of Borges' more accessible ones, with the added dimension of political commitment." "Cynthia Steele, author of Politics, Gender, and the Mexican Novel, 1968-1988: Beyond the Pyramid Augusto Monterroso is widely known for short stories characterized by brilliant satire and wit. Yet behind scathing allusions to the weaknesses and defects of the artistic and intellectual worlds, they show his generous and expansive sense of compassion. This book brings together for the first time in English the volumes Complete Works (and Other Stories) (Obras completas [y otros cuentos] 1959) and Perpetual Motion (Movimiento perpetuo 1972). Together, they reveal Monterroso as a foundational author of the new Latin American narrative.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 152 pages
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press (1 Jun 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0292751834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0292751835
  • Product Dimensions: 22.3 x 14.8 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,210,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp and Witty. 26 Nov 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Monterroso has a fantastatic sense of humor. I enjoyed the book thoroughly.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Augusto Monterroso, Latin-American Master of Short Fiction 30 July 2003
By David C. Kuss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The back cover of this small volume boasts a blurb, which proclaims, "Monterroso is certainly the leading living Guatemalan writer..." Not being quite an expert on Guatemalan literature myself, I cannot personally vouch for this statement. What I can swear to, however, is the fact that this compilation of writings by Augusto Monterroso is a collection of brilliant short fictions, which quickly call to mind the works of Swift, Sterne, Kafka, J.L. Borges, and Italo Calvino (among others). Reminiscent of Borges, Monterroso is a master of the self-referential (art about art/books about books); his fictions abound with tales of the weaknesses and general absurdities of writers (and other story-tellers), bibliophiles, reviewers, critics, researchers, musicians, artists and other intellectual and historical figures who may or may not be "real." Like his predecessors, Monterroso's fictions often challenge our assumptions about literature and its conventions. He freely plays with the forms of fiction; there are short stories
"disguised" as letters, essays, and aphorisms. Several of his stories are far shorter in length than the literary quotes he uses to introduce them. One of these, "The Dinosaur," (perhaps his most well-known work) is a mere 8 words long ("When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there."). In other instances, his fictions mirror the rambling nature of the spoken word itself, as they amble on and meander for some 3 or 4 pages without a single bit of punctuation prior to the concluding period.
Like his (above mentioned) literary forbearers, Monterroso is a master of satire, irony, and the absurd. Resembling Swift ("A Modest Proposal"), Kafka, and Borges before him, Monterroso uses a precise, crisp and almost dispassionate writing style to put forth the most absurd and outrageous of fictions. In "Finished Symphony," for example, he casually relates having overheard in passing, someone tell of the discovery, and then destruction of the two lost movements of Schubert's great "Unfinished Symphony." In other instances, his irony can be self-deprecating. "Leopoldo (His Labors)," for instance, is a short story about a reluctant short story writer, who is eternally frustrated in his decades-long attempt to write his first perfect(and never finished)short story. This entire piece of fiction is a virtuoso bit of satire upon the author, himself (and perhaps on all authors). And what could be more absurd, or more comically inspired than "Flies": "There are three themes; love, death, and flies...Let others deal with the first two. I concern myself with flies...In the beginning was the fly...It is easier for a fly to land on the nose of the Pope, than for the Pope to land on the nose of a fly...Oh, Melville, you had to sail the seas before you could finally set that great white whale on your desk in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, not realizing that Evil had long ago circled your strawberry ice cream..."
Monterroso is clearly one of the important figures in the development of modern and contemporary Latin-American fiction. Along with such writers as Bioy Casares, J.L. Borges, Gabriel Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Tomas Eloy Martinez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Julio Cortazar (as well as Italo Calvino, Tomasso Landolfi, John Barth, and Milan Kundera), Monterroso is a brilliant exponent of "Magic Realism". If you admire any of the aforementioned authors, I would urge you to look into this dazzling collection by an inspired writer.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp and Witty. 26 Nov 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Monterroso has a fantastatic sense of humor. I enjoyed the book thoroughly.
4.0 out of 5 stars If brevity is the soul of wit... 12 April 2014
By Tulugaq - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
More often than not, I'm bored by short stories - even by my favorite authors - but these were a breath of fresh air. Most are quite short, and all but a few were delightfully witty. I'll definitely be reading more Monterroso after this.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great and hilarious sketchbook with smaller literary forms 10 Feb 2013
By Robert Nagle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
SUMMARY: A great and hilarious sketchbook with smaller literary forms, but I wish that story subjects were treated more thoroughly.

RECOMMENDED IF YOU LIKE: Borges, Yourgrau, Calvino, Kundera

MONTERROSO'S COMPLETE WORKS AND OTHER STORIES contain two volumes of stories in a single book. The stories are compressed, satirical and chiefly about bookish subjects. In some stories the style is frenetic and a series of jarring images and exclamations. Many of the stories seem essayistic; the second volume Perpetual Motion contains a series of short themes -- some of which are not fictional at all. Most of the narratives are self-conscious; in the penultimate story Brevity the narrator says,
//
The truth is that the writer of short pieces wants nothing more in this world than to write long texts, interminably long texts in which the imagination does not have to work, in which facts, things, animals and men meet, seek each other out, exist, live together, love, or shed their blood freely without being subjected to the semicolon or the period." (From "Brevity")
//

The final story "Errata and Final Notice" points out alleged errors earlier in the book, adding that the book ends on page 152, this "does not mean it could not also begin here in a backward motion as useless and irrational as the one undertaken by the reader to reach this point."

Clever stuff. My favorite story Leopoldo (His labors) describes a man who considers himself a writer and is regarded as one by friends and family, and yet does little of what may be called writing. Instead, he cogitates at great length about writing, goes through several drafts and spends months agonizing about whether a porcupine or dog should win in a fight in one of his stories. Other story themes include: the vagaries of literary reputation and publishing world, the vanities of the artist and the art appreciator, The title story Complete Works is about a timid critic who longingly hangs around other more distinguished critics until he discovers a narrow field of literary specialization which suffices to gain him entrance into the club.

Other stories cover general themes with characters to illustrate the points: the tallest man in the world, the wife of a ruler who likes to put on charity events involving poetry, a man who deals in shrunken heads, a jealous man. But most of the chapters are either simple little allegories or one paragraph observations about life and art. The book totals 150 pages, and yet it took a long time for me to read. Almost all the pieces were delightful: short and elegantly told (and rendered by Edith Grossman). Yet I wonder if nonartists would find these pieces as enjoyable as I did. One of the more successful pieces, Solemnity and Eccentricity, reads more like an essay than a story; a group of artists proclaim a war against solemnity, and Monterroso reflects on the futility of such a campaign:
//
those who were not solemn (I hastened to place myself among those) laughed more than ever, wherever they were, pointing the finger at things and people.Those who thought themselves solemn declared with a forced smile that they were not, or at least were only when there was no need to be.
//
The rest of the piece reflects on solemnity, false solemnity and ultimately eccentricity, cataloguing historical accounts of eccentrics over the the centuries.

Monterroso's previous collection Black Sheep (which I have not read) tells simple fable-like tales about animals, and this book also displays the author's talent in working within miniature forms. Complete Works has many elements found in shorter fiction: the fairy tale realism of Buzatti, the elegant impudence of Baudelaire, the promiscuous surrealism of Yourgrau, the absurdist obscurantism of Kafka and the otherworldly pedanticism of Borges. At the same time, Monterroso's pieces have a friendly conversational tone; they are more down-to-earth, lush with symbolism but not allegorical, more designed to enthrall with wit than to engage the imagination, more geared to social commentary than suggesting an aesthetic. Most of the pieces seem borderline ridiculous - but never implausible.

Microfiction can be hard to read, even for a remarkable book like this. As much as I enjoy the book's paradoxes and aphorisms, at the end, I found myself longing for longer pieces and a sustained perspective at characters. This is not an impossible feat. Kundera organized various essays and mini-episodes into sections to simulate the effect of a novel's spaciousness. In Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald assembled a series of short imaginary incidents from the the life of a German writer poet and produced a coherent narrative direction -- even though every chapter was 1-3 pages long. I know: Different author, different ambitions, different styles. Monterroso's extraordinary fiction is what it is, but for me they never rise above being impish sketches. For the Perpetual Motion collection of stories (in the 2nd half of the book), "flies" are the unifying motif - but this association via literary quotes at the top of each story didn't help me or even make much sense. Out of all the characters, only one - Leopoldo the writer - stood out in my memory. I can't help wondering if such a memorable character could be enhanced with additional chapters. This brilliant story provided an initial condition without necessarily adding a complication or a potential for change. Let me ask: would Don Quixote be better if it were only one chapter?

(First posted on the idiotprogrammer weblog)
5.0 out of 5 stars Augusto Monterroso, Latin-American Master of Short Fiction 31 July 2003
By David C. Kuss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The back cover of this small volume boasts a blurb, which proclaims, "Monterroso is certainly the leading living Guatemalan writer..." Not being quite an expert on Guatemalan literature myself, I cannot personally vouch for this statement. What I can swear to, however, is the fact that this compilation of writings by Augusto Monterroso is a collection of brilliant short fictions, which quickly call to mind the works of Swift, Sterne, Kafka, J.L. Borges, and Italo Calvino (among others). Reminiscent of Borges, Monterroso is a master of the self-referential (art about art/books about books); his fictions abound with tales of writers (and other story-tellers), readers, reviewers, critics, researchers, musicians, artists and historical figures who may or may not be "real." Like his predecessors, Monterroso's fictions often challenge our assumptions about literature and its conventions. He freely plays with the forms of fiction; there are "short-stories" disguised as letters, essays, and aphorisms. Several of his stories are shorter in length than the literary quotes he uses to introduce them. One of these, "The Dinosaur," (perhaps his most well-known work) is a mere 8 words long ("When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there."). In other instances, his fictions mirror the rambling nature of the spoken word itself, as they amble on and meander for 3 or 4 pages without a single bit of punctuation prior to the concluding period.
Like his (above mentioned) literary forbearers, Monterroso is a master of satire, irony, and the absurd. Resembling Swift ("A Modest Proposal"), Kafka, and Borges before him, Monterroso uses a precise, crisp and almost dispassionate writing style to put forth the most absurd and outrageous of fictions. In "Finished Symphony," for example, he casually relates having overheard in passing, someone tell of the discovery, and then destruction of the two lost movements of Schubert's great "Unfinished Symphony." In other instances, his irony can be directed at himself. "Leopoldo (His Labors)," for instance, is a short story about a reluctant short story writer who is eternally frustrated in his decades-long attempt to write his first short story. This entire piece of fiction is a virtuoso bit of satire upon the author, himself (and perhaps on all authors). And then, what could be more absurd, or more comically inspired than "Flies": "There are three themes; love, death, and flies...Let others deal with the first two. I concern myself with flies...In the beginning was the fly...It is easier for a fly to land on the nose of the Pope, than for the Pope to land on the nose of a fly...Oh, Melville, you had to sail the seas before you could finally set that great white whale on your desk in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, not realizing that Evil had long ago circled your strawberry ice cream..."
Monterroso is clearly one of the important figures in the development of modern and contemporary Latin-American fiction. Along with such writers as Bioy Casares, J.L. Borges, Gabriel Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Tomas Eloy Martinez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Julio Cortazar (as well as Italo Calvino, Tomasso Landolfi, John Barth, and Milan Kundera), Monterroso is a brilliant exponent of "Magic Realism". If you admire any of the aforementioned authors, I would urge you to look into this dazzling collection by an inspired writer.
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