Augusto Monterroso: The Storyteller

Augusto Monterroso, Guatemalan (Honduran) master of the short story

Augusto Monterroso, Guatemalan (Honduran) master of the short story

“When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.”

You have just read a story in its entirety which, if decreasing sales are to be trusted, is probably the first piece of fiction many will have read in quite some time.

The author of this very short story is Augusto Monterroso, perhaps one of the least known members of Latin America’s celebrated “Boom” generation. While he’s considered one of the finest writers Guatemala has ever produced, our Honduran-American editor Hector Luis Alamo insists Monterroso’s birthplace and childhood in Tegucigalpa makes him a full-fledged catracho.

The truth is a number of places in Latin America can claim a piece of the short-story master. Exiled to Mexico City for his open opposition to the Ubico dictatorship, he would spend some time in the South American cities of La Paz and Santiago, before resettling in the Mexican capital for good. It was here in 1959 that Monterroso published his first collection of stories, one of which he titled simply “El dinosaurio.” When told by critics later in his career that his most famous work wasn’t a short story at all, he happily agreed: “True, it isn’t a short story, it’s actually a novel.”

Seeming to have made his mantra the Shakespearean line about brevity being “the soul of wit,” Monterroso spent much of his career packing a lot into a little. As with “El dinosaurio,” his essay “Fecundidad” consists of a single line: “Today I feel well, like a Balzac; I am finishing this line.”

Of the prolific storyteller, fellow Boom writer Carlos Fuentes once asked readers to “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” … “one of the cleanest, most intelligent, transparent and smiling authors in the Spanish language.” Bolaño included Monterroso in his list of authors every short-story writer “must read.”

Monterroso died in 2003 at the age of 81 in Mexico City, but not before being awarded some of the highest honors across Latin America and Spain.

Remembering Monterroso — and publishing as short a profile of the man as we could get away with — is how we celebrate our heritage.