Miguel Ángel Asturias is a leading figure in the phenomenon that has come to be known as the “Boom,” the relatively sudden emergence of a large number of immensely talented fiction writers from Latin America. Scholars disagree about who started the Boom and who is its most important figure, but the fact that Asturias published his most famous novel, El Señor Presidente, in 1946, before many of his Latin American colleagues had even begun to write, and the fact that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1967, indicates that he should be thought of as one of the earliest and one of the best Boom writers.
Although the Boom was not a school of writers with a set of goals in common, at least two major tendencies appear in much of their fiction. For one, Boom writers are among the most innovative of the twentieth century, blazing technical and stylistic trails. The way they write often seems as important to them and as interesting to the reader as that about which they write. However, they also take their subjects very seriously. The subject they address more than any other is politics, especially the relationship between the government and the governed. On both of these counts, Asturias shows himself to be a central figure in the Boom, and no better example than El Señor Presidente exists in his writing.
Asturias’s theme is the most common one in Latin American political fiction: the relationship between the powerful and the powerless, victimizer and victim. In every case, Asturias’s, and hence the readers’, sympathies lie with the poor, weak victims of a political structure that rewards greed and cruelty and leaves everything else a waste.
At the top of the political-military power structure of Guatemala (never named in the novel) is the president (based on Manuel Estrada Cabrera), who rules by terror and by coercion. He perceives anyone with strength, talent, and the potential to be popular with the citizenry as an enemy and ruthlessly destroys him. Often this destruction, as in Ángel Face’s case, takes some time in coming, and, before it arrives, the victim may believe himself to be favored by the president. To rise in the ranks, however—even by being especially loyal and useful to the president—is to acquire power. Those who live by power fear nothing so much as others with power. Thus, even the president’s...
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