“Spotlight On” is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on all things cultural & artistic in Xela and Guatemala. The topic for June 2010 is: Miguel Angel Asturias, Guatemala’s Favorite/Only Nobel Lit Laureate. By Dorcas Shiloj.
Miguel Angel Asturias: poet, narrator, dramatist, journalist and Guatemalan diplomat, is considered one of the greatest Guatemalans of the 20th Century. Asturias graduated as a lawyer from the University of San Carlos, in Guatemala. In 1966 he won the Lenin Peace Prize and in 1967 the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in Madrid the 9 of June of 1974 and is buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
Asturias’ inspiration is drawn from both Mayan culture as well as the European. The Mayan influence is especially apparent with Asturias’ use of cosmovision: a combination of spirituality and philosophy. Like a lyrical poet, he put record of its rich possibilities in variety of creations, some of intimate subjects, tied to other subjects folkloric with surprising imaginative force.
If you are looking to delve into the broad Asturias cannon, I would like to mention and to recommend a work of the Asturias teacher, Men of Maize, a work that narrates problems and the social conflicts of indigenous Guatemalans. This story is narrated in an ambiguous way. Everything is interlaced with the myths and legends of the Mayan people. At the same time it manages in this way to articulate a series of independent, coherent and credible characters, who allow him to settle down a relation with the Mayan culture, their Gods and beliefs, conforming a magical reality or a real magic. Gaspar Ilóm (a warrior in the book) rebels against the tyranny of those who tried to destroy the forests and the Earth.
For the indigenous people, maize was sacred because, according to the Popul Vuh, all people are made of corn. In the end, they lose in this terrible history, both the Indians are killed and the forest destroyed, but also the powerful ones to those whom the destruction does not hurt. Men of Maize is often referred to as Asturias’ masterpiece and his most complicated work. You can find many of Asturias’ books at most local book stores. It is recommended that you have at least an intermediate level of Spanish to tackle an entire novel. Note however that he does also have some good collections of short stories that a beginner might be able to hack through. Don’t worry though, most all of his works have been translated into English (or Dutch, or German, or whatever) and you should be able to read him in your native language, whatever it may be.