Monday, September 20, 2010

The Shortest Story Ever Written

One of the writers I admire most is Augusto Monterroso. He was born in Guatemala in 1921 and died in Mexico City in 2003. Monterroso is often credited with writing the world's shortest story, "El Dinosaurio" ("The Dinosaur"), published in Obras completas (Y otros cuentos). The story reads, in its entirety:

Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.

"When [s]he awoke, the dinosaur was still there."

Carlos Fuentes wrote of Monterroso (referring specifically to The Black Sheep and Other Fables):

"Imagine Borges' fantastical bestiary having tea with Alice. Imagine Jonathan Swift and James Thurber exchanging notes. Imagine a frog from Calaveras County who has seriously read Mark Twain. Meet Monterroso." 

Another review online:

Occasionally one stumbles over a book, without expectations, and finds a small gem -- and wonders how it can have gone unnoticed so long. Monterroso is, of course, not unnoticed. Anyone who reads Spanish literature will be familiar with this influential (to say the least) Guatemalan author. The problem is that his work has not been sufficiently translated. This 1995 collection (combining two of his collections, published in Spanish in 1959 and 1972 respectively !) is only the second collection to appear in English.

Monterroso is the real deal. It is difficult to categorize him on the basis of this small amount of work, but his beautifully crafted stories, some only a line or paragraph in length are a revelation. His humor is on target and sharp, his inventions clever, his philosophy profound and generous. Comparisons to Borges and Calvino are not out of order. A master of detail, succinct and profound, and his work a simple, thought-provoking, multi-layered pleasure to read this author is one of the finer discoveries we have made in recent years.

An example, warily offered: the second half of the collection begins, in the story Flies, with the words: "There are three themes: love, death, and flies," a sentence more likely than it might sound at first reading -- and each further story then is offered with an epigraph in some way relating to flies. No, no King Lear -- instead: Wittgenstein, Weininger, Richard Burton (the real one, not him of Cleopatric fame), Cicero, Yeats and others are quoted.

His works in English can be found here:

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