Mihel Asturias

Mihel Asturias

Guatemalan writer, diplomat, Nobel laureate 1967, laureate of the International Lenin Prize.
Date of Birth: 19.10.1899
Country: Guatemala

  1. Biography of Miguel Angel Asturias
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. European Influences
  4. Return to Guatemala and Political Involvement
  5. Exile and International Recognition
  6. Nobel Laureate and Later Life

Biography of Miguel Angel Asturias

Miguel Angel Asturias was a Guatemalan writer, diplomat, Nobel laureate in 1967, and recipient of the International Lenin Prize. He was born in Guatemala City and was the eldest of two sons of Judge Ernesto Asturias and teacher Maria (Rosales) Asturias. Due to disagreement with the policies of Guatemalan dictator Estrada Cabrera, who came to power in 1898, Miguel's parents lost their jobs, and the Asturias family was forced to move to Salama to live with relatives. They only returned to the capital in 1907.

Early Life and Education

While studying at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala, Miguel took part in the uprising against Cabrera in 1920, which led to the overthrow of the dictatorship. Soon after, he helped establish the National University of Guatemala, a free evening educational institution for workers, where enthusiastic teachers taught. In 1923, Asturias earned a law degree from the University of San Carlos for his work on "Social Problems of the Indians," which was awarded the Galvez Prize.

European Influences

Although Cabrera was ousted, the political atmosphere in Guatemala remained tense as various military groups continued to fight for power. After one of Miguel's friends was brutally beaten for expressing his political views, his parents sent him to Europe to continue his education, fearing for his safety. Initially, Miguel planned to study economics in London but ended up in Paris at the Sorbonne, where he was greatly influenced by Georges Raynaud, an expert on Maya mythology and culture. Miguel studied under Raynaud for five years and translated his major works into Spanish. Under the influence of French surrealists, whose worldview seemed closer to Latin American reality than traditional Western rationalism, Asturias began writing poetry and prose. While in Europe, Miguel wrote "Legends of Guatemala" (1930), a poetic interpretation of Maya mythology. The book was published in Madrid in 1930 and received the Silla Monségur Prize in 1932. During this time, he also wrote his first novel, "El Senor Presidente" (1946), a dark surrealist tale about Latin American dictatorship inspired by his memories of the Cabrera regime.

Return to Guatemala and Political Involvement

In 1928, Miguel traveled to Guatemala and Cuba to give lectures, which were published in a book titled "La Arquitectura de la Vida Nueva" in the same year. Five years later, he returned to live in Guatemala, which was then under the rule of dictator Jorge Ubico. Miguel wrote poetry, worked as a journalist, and even contributed to the radio program "Aerial Gazette." When Juan Jose Arevalo, a more democratic president, replaced the ousted Ubico in 1944, Asturias joined the diplomatic service. He became a cultural attaché to Mexico and Argentina and later served as ambassador to El Salvador. While working in Buenos Aires, Miguel wrote "Hombres de Maiz" (1946), a novel that some critics consider his best work. In this semi-fantastic book written in rhythmic prose, Asturias portrays the magical world of the Maya Indians and contrasts their values with those of the Latin culture bearers against whom the Indians rebel. This was followed by three novels known as the "Banana Trilogy": "Viento Fuerte" (1950), "El Papa Verde" (1954), and "Los Ojos de los Enterrados" (1960). In all three novels, he protests against the violence and lawlessness perpetrated in Central America by the United States. According to many critics, Asturias sacrificed art for politics. In response to this accusation, he said in one of his interviews, "I believe that the function of our literature has always been to tell the suffering of the people. I think that literature of this type cannot be pure literature, solely focused on the beautiful and pleasurable."

Exile and International Recognition

When American ally Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas seized power from President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, Asturias was stripped of his citizenship and exiled to South America. His collection of stories, "Week-end in Guatemala," dedicated to Armas' treacherous takeover, was published in Buenos Aires in 1956. Initially, Asturias lived in Chile with poet Pablo Neruda, and later in Buenos Aires, where he worked as a correspondent for the Venezuelan newspaper "Nacional" and as a consultant for an Argentine publishing house. During this time, he married Argentine Blanca Mora y Araujo, who bore him two children. In 1962, due to the political situation in Argentina, Asturias emigrated again and went to Italy. In Genoa, he wrote two historical novels about the clash between Indian and European (Catholic) cultures: "Mulata de tal" (1963) and "Maladron" (1969). His cycle of poems about the life of the Maya Indians, "Clarivigilia primaveral," was published in 1965 and is likely his most famous poetic work. In 1966, when Asturias was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize for his "outstanding creative achievement, based on an interest in the customs and traditions of the indigenous peoples of Latin America," the new president of Guatemala, Julio Cesar Mendes Montenegro, appointed him as ambassador to France.

Nobel Laureate and Later Life

In 1967, Asturias received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his "vivid literary achievement, rooted in the interests and traditions of the indigenous peoples of Latin America". In his acceptance speech, Asturias stated, "In my books, the voices of the people, their myths, and beliefs will continue to resonate, while I try to understand the issue of national consciousness among the people of Latin America." In his brief Nobel lecture, Asturias highlighted the difference between the European literary tradition and the literature emerging in Latin America. He explained, "Our novels may seem illogical and devoid of common sense to Europeans. However, they are not terrifying because we want to scare the reader. They are terrifying because terrible things are happening to us." He left his diplomatic post in 1970 and devoted himself entirely to literature until his death in Madrid on June 9, 1974. Before his death, he published several more books, including collections of essays and stories.

As critic and biographer A. Richard Callan stated, "Contemporary criticism judges him not by traditional criteria, but by the goal he set for himself: to show how different societal systems coexist in Guatemala and other 'third world' countries." According to Callan, "Asturias' work signifies the maturity of the Latin American novel."