Augusto Monterroso

Writer of the shortest story in literature

Tuesday 18 February 2003 01:00 GMT

Augusto Monterroso, writer: born Tegucigalpa, Honduras 1921; married Barbara Jacobs (two daughters); died Mexico City 8 February 2003.

Augusto Monterroso once confessed with characteristic modesty that he took to writing short stories because he had no talent for poetry. "I never thought I'd ever be able to write a novel, it seemed an unattainable genre."

He wrote many stories, some just a few sentences long, and is best known for "El Dinosaurio", "The Dinosaur", considered the shortest story in literature: "Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todaví a estaba allí" – "When it woke up, the dinosaur was still there." The enigmatic work has given rise to numerous doctoral theses.

Don Tito, as his friends called him, also wrote collections of literary and philosophical reflections infused with self-deprecating melancholy, gentle satire and a progressive political consciousness common to many Latin American writers of his generation.

Born in Honduras, he had Guatemalan nationality. He became politically committed as a young man, campaigning against the control of the country's banana plantations by the American United Fruit Company, and founded the review Acento which became a focus for dissident intellectuals. In 1944 he moved to Mexico, to escape persecution from Guatemala's ruling generals, and was later appointed vice-consul there by the reformist Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz between 1951 and 1954. When Arbenz was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the US to protect the interests of United Fruit, Monterroso moved to Chile, where he became friend and secretary to the Nobel prizewinning writer Pablo Neruda.

His Obras Completas (y otros cuentos) (1959; translated as Complete Works & Other Stories, 1995) reveals his distinctive style. His prose was simple, concise, accessible, full of black humour and paradox. "My readers like me to shake them up, to make them see how ridiculous we are," he said. He shunned metaphors, saying they made only bad writers happy.

Monterroso was widely respected in the Spanish-speaking world and in 2000 won its highest literary award, Spain's Prince of Asturias Prize.

Elizabeth Nash

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