Born in Asteasu in 1951, his real name is Jose Irazu.
Prominent among his books are: Obabakoak, (1989) The Basque Country Award, The National Novel Award, finalist in the European Literary Award, (IMPAC), El hombre solo (1994), Esos cielos (1997), El hijo del acordeonista (2004) The Grinzane Cavour Prize, The Mondello Prize, The Times Literary Supplement Translation Prize, and Siete casas en Francia (2009) selected by Publishers Weekly in 2012 as one of the best works of fiction published in the United States.
Recently he has published Días de Nevada (The Basque Country Prize, 2013) and Txoriak kolpeka/ Pájaros que golpean (2014).
He published his first book of poetry, Etiopia, in 1978, and was awarded the 2003 Cesare Pavese Prize for the Italian translation of Poemas&Híbridos.
In the field of literature for children and young adults, notable among his works are Memorias de una vaca (novella included in 1001 Children´s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up published by Julia Eccleshare), and the series Xola, whose version in English was considered worthy of the Marsh Prize (The Adventures of Shola, Best Book in Translation, 2014).
His works have been translated into 32 languages and has been brought on stage and to the big screen by Montxo Armendariz (Obaba, 2005), Aizpea Goenaga (Zeru horiek, 2006) and Imanol Rayo (Bi anai, 2011).
In 2006 he was made a member of Euskaltzaindia, the Royal Academy of the Basque Language. In 2017 he was awarded the 2017 Liberpress Prize for Literature.