‘The President’ by Miguel Ángel Asturias

“Neither Gabriel García Márquez nor Mario Vargas Llosa had yet been born when the Guatemalan Miguel Ángel Asturias began to write his first novel, El Señor Presidente, in December 1922. He labored on it for a decade while living in self-imposed exile in Paris, then returned home when the Great Depression left him strapped for money, only to find that his work was unpublishable because the dictator whose reign it portrayed had given way to an even more cruel and oppressive one. When he finally self-published the novel in Mexico in 1946, it was riddled with typographical errors, and a definitive edition did not appear until 1952.” – Larry Rohter in The Inventor of Magical Realism

From the Publisher

“Winner! Nobel Prize for Literature. Guatemalan diplomat and writer Miguel Angel Asturias (1899-1974) began this award-winning work while still a law student. It is a story of a ruthless dictator and his schemes to dispose of a political adversary in an unnamed Latin American country usually identified as Guatemala. The book has been acclaimed for portraying both a totalitarian government and its damaging psychological effects. Drawing from his experiences as a journalist writing under repressive conditions, Asturias employs such literary devices as satire to convey the government’s transgressions and surrealistic dream sequences to demonstrate the police state’s impact on the individual psyche. Asturias’s stance against all forms of injustice in Guatemala caused critics to view the author as a compassionate spokesperson for the oppressed. “My work,” Asturias promised when he accepted the Nobel Prize, “will continue to reflect the voice of the people, gathering their myths and popular beliefs and at the same time seeking to give birth to a universal consciousness of Latin American problems.”

Critics note that while living in Paris,  he was greatly influenced by the surrealists and that this led not only to the structure of his work but his influence over subsequent authors’ understanding of the role of indigenous cultures in “real life” and fiction as well as the value of mixing fantasy into an otherwise realistic work.

Wikipedia notes that, “Critics compare his fiction to that of Franz Kafka, James Joyce, and William Faulkner because of the stream-of-consciousness style he employed” while Nahum Megged writes that his protagonists are those who are in harmony with nature and the antagonists are those who are out of sync with the natural world.

I do believe that in spite of his Nobel Prize, he is often overlooked when the origins of magical realism are discussed.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels are written in the magical realism and contemporary fantasy genres. You can find them listed here.