7 Emblematic Books by Miguel Ángel Asturias
Miguel Ángel Asturias, Nobel laureate in literature, was a writer, journalist, and diplomat from Guatemala.
As one of the greatest contributors to Latin American literature, he wrote important books that reflect the social conditions of his country from prehispanic to contemporary times.
Read ahead to find the most emblematic books by Miguel Ángel Asturias, as well as interesting facts of his life. We will delve into his creative world to learn why his poetic imagery is unique and full of life.
Benefits of Reading Spanish Literature
Reading Spanish literature—particularly novels—will enhance your Spanish learning as your internalization of the language will motivate you to engage in discussion, debate, and research.
Experts consider this method as a very powerful and stimulating tool when it comes to learning a new language.
You will be able to contextualize idioms, expressions, writing styles, semantics, and the usage of formal and colloquial forms of speech.
Miguel Ángel Asturias’s Biography and Writing Style
Miguel Ánguel Asturias was born and raised in Guatemala but spent most of his adult life abroad in exile. He studied anthropology and indigenous mythology in Paris.
According to some experts he was the first to link linguistics and anthropology with literature. He was also associated with the surrealism and modernist movements becoming a precursor of the Latin American boom of the 60s and the 70s. Miguel Ángel Asturias was the third American not from the USA winning a Nobel prize after Gabriela Mistral and Saint-John Perse and the second Hispanic person.
His parents, a judge and a teacher were openly against Dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera, but it wasn’t until his dad let go of a group of students involved in a riot that they had to face the dictator himself. Miguel Ángel’s father lost his job and they had to live at his grandparents farm where he met Lola Reyes, an indigenous girl who looked after him and told him about her beliefs and the traditions and legends of her native background.
Later he went back to the suburbs and started writing. He founded the Popular University where the middle class would fund free courses for the less favoured. Miguel Ángel Asturias studied medicine for a year before going to law school. He soon moved to Paris and started friendships with many poets and writers. At the same time he became fascinated with the Mayan world and decided to translate the Popol Vuh, the sacred Mayan text, to Spanish. This project lasted for 40 years.
He pursued a political career and became a Congressman and served as a diplomat as well. Asturias died in Madrid due to cancer after being in exile and winning the Nobel Prize in 1967.
Miguel Ángel Asturias style is Magic Realism or realismo mágico that was a very important literary movement in Latin America. Every circumstance inside his books obeyed the unnatural and volatile laws of magic. The descriptions seem to stop time in a foggy place, it feels almost like sleep walking.
1. Legends of Guatemala (Leyendas de Guatemala)
Legends of Guatemala was the opera prima of Miguel Ángel Asturias. It is a narration of the myths and legends of Guatemala reflecting all of the author’s knowledge about prehispanic civilizations and traditions.
This spoken word book is a reflection of the collective memory and mixed cultures of Miguel’s native land. The creative and original style and aesthetics the author uses make this piece of Guatemalan folklore something worth reading.
According to some internet reviews, Miguel Ángel Asturias poems have a certain cadence that makes all of these readings unique and when you read them in English the magic and rhythm are missing. The level of complexity of Leyendas de Guatemala is moderate to hard.
2. The President (El señor presidente)
The President is one of Miguel Ángel Asturias’ most famous novels. In it, he describes what life was like under the regime of Dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera. This publication and the public opposition of the author cost his exile.
As you read this book you will get close to the nature of the American dictatorships, not at all unknown by Hispanics. But most importantly, you will read first hand all about the social, economic, political and moral consequences of such harsh governments.
Miguel Ángel Asturias’ magical realism tells us the story of subjugated people like between dreams, with tools like abrupt scenario changes and constant repetition of phrases. You can clearly see how the surrealist influence of the author unfolds.
This book is a personal protest against social injustice in a time where you could perceive the terrible outcomes of tyranny after an earthquake struck the city where Miguel Ángel Asturias was born.
Prepare to emotionally invest yourself in a tough but exciting and magical world where your feelings will be exposed most of the time.
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3. Men of Maize (Hombres del maíz)
Men of Maize is the masterpiece of Miguel Ángel Asturias. You can read his unparalleled ability to synthesize his wide knowledge of the Mayan culture along with his political convictions into a book in defense of the indigenous tradition and solidarity.
As people considered him an optimum representation of the Guatemalan people, you could say this art piece is a compilation of this society’s aspirations and morals.
Men of Maize or los hombres del maíz is a myth from the Mayan book Popol Vuh. While some consider this one of Miguel Ángel Asturias masterpieces, others say it is almost impossible to understand.
Above the legend itself, the author constructs a story where you can see the contrast between the Mayan and modern Guatemalan society. There are 6 parts and each tells a different story. In the first one a native leader rebels against the white people’s intention of exploiting their land commercially. In the second part, an indigenous man looks for his lost wife and eventually transforms into a coyote, this transformation is known in Mayan tradition as nahualismo.
Miguel Ángel Asturias wrote Men of Maize like people that speak indigenous languages would do and in the myth genre, that’s why its level of complexity is so high.
Many producers and directors have adapted this piece into plays and movies.
4. The Eyes of the Interred (Los ojos de los enterrados)
This is the last of the banana trilogy. A strike of the United Fruit Company piles on the fall of the pro fruit regime, deeply affecting the Guatemalan indigenous people.
Los ojos de los enterrados will convey the feelings, traditions, background, and reality of a repressed society cornered in a dead end road. This Miguel Ángel Asturias novel also has the Popol Vuh myths as a base to tell the stories of people trapped between the changing world, the spiritual life, and tropical environment that were once all they knew.
Let the magic guide you through a world mired in fantastic devotion while struggling to deal with the reality of a revolution.
5. Friday of Dolores (Viernes de Dolores)
A group of students has to go through all kinds of experiences while trying to organize a strike. They will try to denounce the terrible conditions their community is in as a result of the bad government.
The most iconic phrase of the book, “lime and cry” (cal y llanto) sets the tone in a world full of injustice. Miguel Ángel Asturias is in charge of giving voice to the ones who don’t have it. A national tragedy that trickles down to every single person giving little, sleepwalking life to the ones that will become collateral damage.
6. Mulata (Mulata de tal)
According to the Ideologies and Literature journal, this book is “a carnival incarnated in a novel.” The relationship between a peasant and his wife is affected by her struggles as a mulatto woman. The couple is often persecuted and criticized by the Catholic church because they are expert sorcerers. The theme of this piece is the beliefs that the characters and actors have between Mayan and catholic with a hint of mythology.
7. The Mirror of Lida Sal (El espejo de Lida Sal)
Read this collection of Guatemalan folk tales with a Mayan mythology background. You will find ancient history and spirituality brought to modern life through the foggy roads of magical realism.
Miguel Ángel Asturias shows his inventiveness, and ability to synthesize with an imagination beyond compare.
Learn More About Miguel Ángel Asturias and Other Nobel Laureates!
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