(1899-1974) Guatemalan writer, winner of the 1967 Nobel Prize for Literature, ambassador to France in his later years, and a central figure in the evolution of Latin American literature, most significantly perhaps through the workings-out of his concept of "myth creation", a term he used to describe the writer's central role in the creation of structures of meaning relevant to a world in which Surrealism was not a mode but a Perception of circumambient and pressing Reality. Latin America could also be described as a world whose primal engendering stories (preserved sacred-book compendiums like the Mayan Popol Vuh, which MA trans 1927 from the French) could not perhaps be used holus-bolus, but served as necessary paradigms for new myths. The connections between "myth creation" and Magic Realism are multifarious and intimate.
MA's first novel – which he part-drafted as early as 1922 – was El Señor Presidente (1946 Mexico; trans Frances Partridge as The President 1963 UK; vt El Señor Presidente 1964 US), an extremely complex narrative set mainly in a nightmarish City dominated by a God-like all-seeing dictator who is opposed by his favourite "angel" – his name is Miguel Angel, MA's given names – whose rebellion extends only as far as the President allows it to. This Parody of human autonomy, whose effects extend throughout the text, contributes centrally to the effect the novel generates of combined mythic richness and claustrophobia.
MA's second novel, Hombres de maíz (1949 Argentina; trans Gerald Martin as Men of Maize 1975 US), is more difficult – combining at least six interwoven episodes involving protagonists who are each other's Reincarnations, and more visibly written according to the precepts of myth creation. The story, insofar as it can be reduced to one central tale, is that of the nation (Guatemala) itself, rendered through Palimpsests of exemplary Myth. The novel contains deaths, resurrections, Accursed Wanderers, Shamans, excursions to the Underworld, seasonal rites (> Seasons) and, at the end, a glimpse of Eden.
MA's last novel of fantasy importance, Mulata de tal (1963 Argentina; trans Gregory Rabassa as Mulata 1967 US; vt The Mulatta and Mr. Fly 1967 UK), involves a kind of pact with the eponymous Devil (> Pacts with the Devil), who takes the form of the mulatto woman the protagonist eventually marries (only to immure her); the novel then traces the ultimate devastation imposed upon the Land by the consequences of the pact.
Other works of interest include the Banana Trilogy – Viento fuerte (1950 Argentina; trans Darwin Flakoll and Claribel Alegría as The Cyclone 1967 UK), El papa verde (1954 Argentina; trans Gregory Rabassa as The Green Pope 1971 US) and Los ojos de los enterrados (1960 Argentina; trans Gregory Rabassa as The Eyes of the Interred 1973 US) – which incorporates some supernatural elements. MA, along with Jorge Luis Borges, is regarded as the most important Latin American writer of the generation preceding Gabriel García Márquez. [JC]
Miguel Angel Asturias