Childhood & Early Life:
Miguel was born to Ernesto Asturias Girón and María Rosales de Asturias on 19th October 1899, in Guatemala City. His father was an advocate, while his mother was a teacher. The couple even had a younger son named Marco Antonio.
At that time, Guatemala was under the dictatorial rule of the leader Manuel Estrada Cabrera. As his father did not support the dictator and did not work in accordance with Cabrera, Miguel’s family had to move out of Guatemala and reside in Salamá town, located in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, in the year 1905.
He spent a few years in his grandparents’ house, where he was introduced to the world of myth and legends, as well as the ‘Mayan Culture’. These themes occupied a place in Asturias’ writings later in his life. However, after a few years, his family moved back to Guatemala City.
After completing his high school education, he joined the ‘University of San Carlos’, where he pursued his graduation in Law. Here he co-founded the ‘Popular University’, which was intended to provide free education to the poor who could not afford to join the prestigious national university.
In 1923, he wrote his thesis named ‘The Social Problem of the Indian’, and then travelled to England to pursue studies in political economy. However, he spent only a few months in London and then moved to Paris.
He joined the ‘University of Paris’, famously referred to as ‘Sorbonne’, the same year. Here this writer studied ethnology and at the same time he was also inclined towards surrealism, owing to the influence which the French poet André Breton had on him. During this time, he started penning his poems and fictional writings.
Continue Reading Below
In 1925, he took the task of translating into Spanish the ‘Popol Vuh’ which was a holy script of the Mayan culture, and this introduced him to the culture.
One of his most significant works ‘Leyendas de Guatemala’ was written in the year 1930, and spoke about the Mayan culture before the Spanish conquest of the sixteenth century.
He went back to Guatemala in the year 1933, when the country was ruled by the authoritarian ruler Jorge Ubico. There Miguel initiated a radio magazine by the name ‘El diario del aire’, and even edited the content of the same.
During this time, he earned his living by working as a journalist and also composed numerous poems such as the ‘Sonetos’ (Sonnets), which appeared in the year 1936.
In 1942, he became a legislator of the ‘Congress of Guatemala’ and thus, his political career started.
The dictatorial ruler Jorge Ubico was overthrown by a liberal government in 1946 and this allowed Miguel to publish his works without any fear of it being banned.
The same year, he was elected as an ambassador and he travelled to various Central and South American countries, while he resumed the office.
Subsequently, he published his novel named ‘El señor presidente’ (The President) which he had written long back but could not publish it during the authoritarian regime, due to fear of the work being banned.
The year 1949, saw the publication of his collection of poetry named ‘Sien de alondra’, and the novel named ‘Hombres de maíz’ (Men of Maize).
Continue Reading Below
Some of his works were themed around India. His three novels titled ‘Viento fuerte’ (The Cyclone), ‘El papa verde’ (The Green Pope) and ‘Los ojos de los enterrados’ (The Eyes of the Interred) were published during the period 1950-60. These were also compiled as a trilogy called the ‘La trilogia bananera’ (The Banana Trilogy) about Indian farmers, who were demoralised in the banana plantations.
In 1954, Guatemala was invaded by the Military officer Carlos Castillo Armas and overthrew Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. Miguel, who supported the latter, had been sent into exile by the former. He travelled to places like Buenos Aires, Chile and Genoa while he was into exile.
In 1963, he authored his novel ‘Mulata de Tai’ and this helped him gain popularity in Genoa.
When the revolutionary leader Julio César Méndez Montenegro was elected as the new President of Guetamala in 1966, Asturias’ exile was withdrawn and he was elected as the ambassador to France. The latter served in this role for the next four years.
This writers works appear in the compilation named ‘Obras completas’, which was published in 1967.
During 1923-33, Asturias authored his novel ‘El señor presidente’ (The President), which talked of an anonymous dictator who ruled in some region of Central America. This novel discusses the oppression and exploitation which the people had to suffer during the tenure of this authoritarian.
However, because of its content, the novel could not be published during the dictatorial regime and was published finally published after the authoritarian regime in Guatemala ended. This novel was highly acclaimed by readers and critics.
‘Hombres de maíz’ (Men of Maize), for which this author was awarded the ‘Nobel Prize’ is regarded by many as one of the greatest literary pieces. Its theme revolves around the strong belief of the Mayan culture, that human flesh is constructed with corn.
Personal Life & Legacy:
In 1939, Asturias married Clemencia Amado and the couple were blessed with two sons Miguel and Rodrigo.
However, their marriage didn’t last too long and the couple separated in the year 1947.
In 1950, Miguel married a woman named Blanca Mora y Araujo and later, he even dedicated the novel named ‘Week-end en Guatemala’ to this new woman in his life.
On 9th June 1974, this Nobel laureate succumbed to death. Later, Guatemala initiated some scholarships and awards named after him such as the ‘Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature’, in recognition of his contribution towards the country’s literature.
The national theatre of his country has been named as the ‘Centro Cultural Miguel Ángel Asturias’.
His writings have been translated into several languages like English, Italian, German, French, and this shows the wide acceptance of his works around the world.